The federal plan to replace seven bridges on Control Road, making them wider and increasing the amount of weight they can hold, is a “godsend,” according to Gary Hatch, chief of the Hellsgate Fire Department.
A fire truck can weigh 30 tons, and many of the bridges have weight limits of 22 tons,
“That’s always been a concern,” he said. “We have no choice but to go over them.”
Federal highway officials, local firefighters and a spattering of citizens gathered at an open house Tuesday night at Julia Randall Elementary School so people could learn about the roughly $5 million project, which will run from April through December 2011.
The project aims to replace seven anti-
quated bridges on Control Road, built during the late 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
“The biggest problem now is that they’re one lane,” said Whispering Pines Fire District Chief Ron Sattelmaier. That means trucks must cross at a slower rate of speed, careful of oncoming cars.
The changes probably won’t decrease response response time significantly, said Sattelmaier, but he does expect them to increase the ease of responding to calls.
If a major fire ever forced evacuation, the wider roads would decrease the risk of a traffic jam and make the process unfold more smoothly, said Hatch.
Plus, the narrow bridges have caused traffic accidents, although not involving fire trucks. Hatch said cars have driven off the bridge after swirling dust from the road obscured the drivers’ views. “This is going to be a godsend,” he said.
Roughly 640 vehicles travel the road daily, according to county figures from March 2008.
Few critics have emerged during the public comment period for this project, said Project Manager Thomas Puto, who works with the Federal Highway Administration out of Colorado.
Most concerns have involved access, for both people and emergency response vehicles. “The road is going to be open at all times,” said Puto. Money for the $4 million to $6 million project comes from a pot of federal funds collected through gasoline taxes, among other things.
“I would not expect to see dollars for this project again in my lifetime,” said Gary Hanna, lead forest engineer with the Forest Service. “In today’s economic conditions, we are extremely fortunate to receive this funding. This has been on our forest maintenance to-do list for a long time.”
The one-lane bridges set for replacement include those across Webber, Bonita, Moore, Perley, Lewis and Ellison creeks, as well as Roberts Draw. Engineers will also design a remedy for the low-water crossing on Control Road in Tonto Village.
The project is currently undergoing environmental assessments, and Puto said officials are working through several issues like maintaining the structure’s historical character. Foundations of the bridges have stone facades, for example, and officials discussing whether to replicate the design to maintain the structure’s character.