Construction of new bridges in northern Gila County wrapped up last week on schedule and under budget. The project is one of a handful of roadway improvements in the county cruising forward. A bridge in Tonto Basin is the only one that appears years off course.
Officials say they can’t pin down funding for the $20 million Tonto Basin bridge that would link east and west Tonto Creek residents and end decades of sometimes tragic swift water rescues.
While design work is nearing completion, several attempts at securing funding have failed. Most recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected a grant application.
No project in Arizona received TIGER funding after the transportation department received 848 applications requesting $14.3 billion, far exceeding the $511 million available under the program.
Steve Stratton, Gila County Public Works director, said despite the funding setback, the county is pushing forward with the bridge. He hopes to obtain money from the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
Other projects under way in northern Gila County include widening a road in Pine, adding a bridge on the east side of Tonto Creek, chip sealing various roads, adding pedestrian rest shelters in Pine-Strawberry and finishing work on seven new bridges on the Control Road north of Payson.
The largest and most complex project for the county remains the Tonto Creek bridge.
Tonto Creek bridge
Design work on a bridge in Tonto Basin started years ago after decades of pining.
Winter storms every year cause the creek to turn from a meandering stream to a raging river, sometimes closing cross-creek travel for months. Many who dare cross the creek during high flows get stuck and need rescuing.
With residents on the east side cut off, the county spends thousands of dollars to shuttle essential supplies back and forth.
Proponents of the bridge believe it would both end flooding headaches and boost the economy by bringing more tourism to the area.
The project started strong with the county receiving $2.96 million in federal funding for design. So far, the county has submitted 95 percent of plans to the Arizona Department of Transportation for approval and a permit application with the Army Corps of Engineers.
In addition, mudstone from the project site has been sent to Texas A&M University for testing. If the rock is “good,” the county will not have to bury supports as deep, which would cut costs, Stratton said.
Nine acres of land needed for the project has also been appraised and the Gila County Board of Supervisors could vote May 3 to submit offers to five landowners. By July, the county could own the land, which has no structures on it.
Stratton is hopeful the federal government will extend SAFETEA-LU funding and the county project will qualify.
“We need the funding to come from there,” he said.
Also, ADOT might have money left over at the end of the year that could go toward the project.
Stratton may also ask for funding for the Tonto Creek bridge and not a smaller bridge over Oak Creek. The bridges have been packaged together in grant applications and Stratton believes separating them may make it easier to get funding.
The Oak Creek project may turn into a culvert instead of a bridge, Stratton said.
“We are looking at every option we can,” he said.
Another project that has had to be modified is a road in Pine.
Pine Creek Canyon Road
Plans for Pine Creek Canyon Road were originally grander and wider.
The county had wanted to widen it well beyond the current 16 feet but could not acquire the necessary right-of-ways.
Crews will now expand the road to 22 feet, still enough room for vehicles to pass, but not wide enough to add sidewalks.
“We wanted it wider, but it caused too much controversy.”
On April 3, the county board of supervisors awarded the contract for the project to the low bidder, Carson Construction. The first phase will involve the installation of a new water main, fire hydrants and cross culverts. The second phase will repave the road.
Also in Pine, new pedestrian shelters could soon be going up.
Pine-Strawberry pedestrian rest shelters
The county recently received a $500,000 grant to install 11 pedestrian rest shelters throughout P-S on county roads.
The shelters will provide a place for walkers to sit and rest, Stratton said.
The Pine-Strawberry School District could also choose to use the structures as bus stops, Stratton said.
South of Pine, a roadway project is just wrapping up.
Control Road bridges
Crews will add railings to the final bridge off the Control Road (FR 51) next week, wrapping up a yearlong project that replaced seven aging bridges.
The Webber Creek bridge opened April 6, the last bridge finished in the $6 million project that started in May 2011.
The Central Federal Lands (CFL) of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) awarded Austin Bridge & Roads a “design-build” contract to replace seven bridges north of Payson in the Tonto National Forest.
The project is the first design-build project contracted by the CFL in more than 15 years and Austin Bridge & Roads’ first project with the FHWA.
The bridges are located along the Control Road over Roberts Draw, Webber, Bonita, Perley, Moore, Lewis and Ellison creeks, said Thomas E. Puto, project manager with the FHWA Central Federal Lands Highway Division.
Puto said the FHWA is very pleased with Austin Bridge & Roads’ work.
The project was pushed back a few months due to weather, but managed to stay on budget.
The public proved very cooperative and supportive throughout the process, he said.
The new bridges allow for two-lane travel and can accommodate large trucks, especially important during wildfire season.
As a bonus, several hundred concrete barriers used during construction were donated to the county, Stratton said. Those barriers can be used during upcoming county road projects.
The county has plans to chip seal eight roads in northern Gila County.
Sections of Baker Ranch Road, Fossil Creek Road and roads in Gisela, Mesa del Caballo, Round Valley, Oxbow Estates and Houston Mesa are slated for chip sealing this year and into 2013.
Money from the transportation excise tax would fund the $618,000 project.