Plans for the Tonto Creek Bridge Gila County

A rendering of what the proposed bridge would look like in Punkin Center.

An Arizona Senate floor vote of 28-2 Jan. 30 approved Dist. 6 Sen. Sylvia Allen’s bill, SB 1035, to provide $15 million in funding for a bridge across Tonto Creek in Tonto Basin. With the approval, the bill goes to the House, where Dist. 8 Rep. David Cook’s HB 2056 is still traversing committee hearings. The House bill also seeks $15 million for the bridge project.

Voting against the bill were David Livingston, who voted against it in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Eddie Farnsworth, Dist. 12, which includes Mesa. Farnsworth is the Senate president pro tempore.

Livingston, Dist. 22, chairs the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. Casting his vote in the appropriations committee, he said there are a lot of bridges that need to be repaired and built in Arizona. He has seen the ADOT list of priorities and this bridge is not on it and since Gov. Doug Ducey has already asked the federal government to fund it, “I want to wait to see what happens through the process and with the budget.”

The House appropriations committee approved Cook’s bill 10-1 Feb. 5 (the one “no” was for an absent member, Bret Roberts, who represents a large chunk of southwest Pinal County and some of northeast Pima County). It is next set to go to the rules committee.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors was provided the update on the Senate vote by County Manager James Menlove at its Feb. 4 meeting.

Deputy County Manager Jacque Sanders updated the BOS on the hoped for a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant for the bridge. She said the application, accompanied by a video made by Randy Roberson, earned a “highly recommended” ranking, which is above the ranking it received last year. However, it is among about 207 applications from which only 53 will be funded. The outcome is pending.

Experts say it will cost around $18 million to build a bridge over Tonto Creek. The county has about $3 million set aside for the Tonto Creek bridge project in its budget, plus has done all the work to make it “shovel ready” with not only the design in place, but by also buying the needed property on either side of the creek and securing all the environmental clearances required by the federal government. In fact, all the required pieces to make the project shovel ready have been in place since 2012.

Efforts to secure a bridge, or just a year-round safe access crossing, go as far back as the 1970s, Allen said.

Eight people have lost their lives trying to cross the creek during flooding.

“The state has the money. This needs to be done. Let’s do it now,” Allen urged the House Transportation Committee members at an earlier hearing.

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