BY DANNY SHAPIRO
PHOENIX — Gila County was awarded a $21 million federal grant to fund construction of a bridge over Tonto Creek months after three children were killed when their caravan attempted to cross floodwaters, officials said Thursday.
Funding for the bridge was sought by several state leaders after Willa, Colby and Austin Rawlings died after the truck they and six other family members were in became stuck in November 2019 while trying to cross the creek.
A total of eight people have died attempting to cross the flooded creek in the past 25 years.
“Today’s announcement is wonderful news for the people of Gila County and our entire state,” Gov. Doug Ducey said in a press release. “This project is about so much more than just a bridge; it’s about safety and providing residents a lifeline to critical amenities like medical care and groceries.”
Ducey and U.S. Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema wrote letters to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao following the death of the children, urging funding for the bridge in central Arizona.
McSally said the bridge will provide safe passage over Tonto Creek during flooding, and will allow direct access to school, health care and work.
Currently, residents have to take a 75-mile detour during flooding.
Gila County will receive the funding under the fiscal year 2020 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) discretionary grants program.
“No other family should have to experience this kind of unimaginable loss,” McSally said in a press release.
A $17.4 million BUILD grant was also awarded for a 35th Avenue safety project, according to Sinema.
“Today’s funding announcements will make Arizona communities safer and fuel Arizona jobs,” Sinema said in a release. “I pledge to continue supporting investments across our state and ensuring our roads and bridges are safe and secure.”