A Bridge To Somewhere... (Maybe)

Residents of Tonto Basin take their pleas for a bridge to Congress

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A mother clings to the handle on her baby’s car seat to keep it from rocking violently.

A dozen school children clutch the side railings of a military truck.

Aerial video pans across a vista of trapped, water-logged vehicles.

These images haunt a four-minute video montage that documents the floods of Tonto Creek. Residents hope the video will help spur federal officials to fork over millions needed to build a bridge in Tonto Basin — a bridge to somewhere, they call it.

Barb Godbold recently created the video of news clips for Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Flagstaff) to show members of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Godbold said she hopes the video will help secure the $20 million needed to build the bridge.

Godbold said she chose video clips that document the reality residents live with nearly every year the creek floods.

Raging floodwaters typically close Tonto Creek crossings for weeks on end, forcing the county to haul school children and residents across in an old military vehicle. Many more residents drive around road closed signs and battle the crossing in their vehicles, often getting stuck and sometimes losing their lives.

The creek has claimed the lives of five adults since 1995. Godbold’s video ends with the question: “Next a child?”

“As many close calls ensue, and when the only school bus (since the 1970s) … is a 1967 U.S. Army 5-ton Kaiser 6x6, of special concern are the children,” she said. “It is so dangerous to cross.”

Godbold continued, “We are trying to generate awareness and, hopefully, it will make a difference.”

The county is looking at putting in a 1,980-foot bridge across Tonto Creek and a 147-foot bridge over Oak Creek. If the county cannot get funding for the larger bridge, it may look to fund the $1.5 million Oak Creek Bridge on its own.

Both bridges would increase access for residents who, on average, cannot cross Tonto Creek 41 days a year, or 12 percent of the time, due to flooding.

At a recent meeting, Penny Pew, Gosar’s constituent services director, suggested residents create a video and write letters detailing how yearly flooding has affected their lives. Steps like this, she said, could influence what projects are funded.

Most residents are willingly to do anything to see the bridge built, various residents working for decades on the project, Godbold said. Godbold has unofficially chronicled these efforts, keeping a timeline dating back to the 1960s. Today, the project is closer to happening than ever before.

The county has created plans for the bridge and is in the process of buying out several landowners for property where the bridge will sit.

In early June, the Gila County Board of Supervisors gave the county public works department permission to send offers to five property owners from whom it must purchase rights-of-way so the bridge project can move forward.

The offers range from $704 to $137,800 and total $271,659.

The county is funding the purchases with a half-cent cut of the gas tax.

The county received nearly $3 million in federal funding to design the bridge.

With the bridge nearly shovel-ready, residents are anxious to see the bridge built.

Wasting any more time, they say, will increase costs and endanger residents.

When floods cut off residents on the east side, the county shuttles essential supplies back and forth. On average, the county puts $125,000 a year into emergency rescues and road maintenance.

Proponents of the bridge believe a bridge would end both flooding headaches and boost the economy by bringing more tourism to the area.

The project took a disheartening turn, however, when it was not funded through the Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant last year.

County officials hope to tap into the extended Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) funding.

Gosar is also looking at various pools of money, Pew said. One possible source is the Army Corp of Engineers.

Earmarks are unlikely, however, and funding likely will not be doled out until the Senate passes a budget.

Current designs call for a bridge near the “modified store crossing.”

The bridge would stretch from Greenback Road on the east to the top of the hill of Old Highway 188 on the west.

It will have a sidewalk and bike lanes as well as high fencing.

The project would include improvements for roadways leading up to the bridge.

When the bridge is complete, the county would keep the Bar X Crossing open and close the A-Cross. To watch the Bridge to Somewhere YouTube video, visit bit.ly/M7yqeZ.

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