Gov. Doug Ducey is asking for federal money from President Trump’s infrastructure grant program to build a bridge over Tonto Creek in Gila County where three children died last year in flooding.
Two state lawmakers who have bills earmarking money to build the bridge appreciate the gesture but worry the federal government will take too long to follow through or won’t follow through at all.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chano on January 8, Ducey said the bridge would increase safety, quality of life and economic opportunity for the area.
Since 1995, eight people have died crossing the flooded creek, including three children November 29, whose family drove past signs warning them not to cross.
Ducey’s request comes weeks after being noncommittal about putting state money toward the project that residents have wanted for years. The grant would pay for what Gila County and the state cannot.
County officials recently said they could front $3 million, but two lawmakers, Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, are asking for more from the county before they move forward with their bills – they’re racing against a federal application process that could take too long or never be approved.
Allen’s bill proposes $15 million in one-time state funding and asking Gila County to kick in $5 million. Cook’s bill calls for $20 million in state funding.
Both lawmakers said they’re grateful the governor asked for federal money and said it was a good gesture, but they don’t trust the feds to come through in time, or at all.
“I mean, it’s great, but I wish he would have written this three or four years ago,” Cook said.
He said that if the state can quickly assure a commitment from the feds that it should move forward, otherwise, they should pay for what the county can’t through state money.
Cook said he has spoken with Gila County Supervisor Tim Humphry and asked him and the county to look harder for more money to help pay for the bridge.
“I’m willing to amend my bill to whatever we need,” Cook said.
He said officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation told him it could review existing blueprints for the project, which could take weeks. Once that happens, Cook wants to run it by private construction companies to see if the bridge can be built for $20 million or less and then introduce his bill in a House committee.
Ideally, Cook said, he wants this done before seasonal rains and the next school year.
Allen said the state can’t keep waiting on the feds, especially since the last three grant requests have been rejected.
“However, if we were able to get funding quickly that would be great. If not, we need to fund the bridge this budget round,” she said.
Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak wouldn’t share Ducey’s thoughts on either bill, only saying that the office “works closely” with legislators often.
“We are making this request for the federal government today, you’ll see the full details of our budget next week,” Ptak said.
Ducey will outline his spending priorities in his State of the State Address to the opening session of the Legislature on January 13, and on January 17 when he presents his budget in full.P