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Tonto Creek bridge nears completion

GILA COUNTY-Nearly five years after three children died in northern Arizona’s Tonto Creek, Gila County is using a $21 million federal grant to build a bridge over part of the creek.

County officials announced Wednesday that the bridge is more than 94% complete and should have two-way traffic crossing by the end of this month.

The project began in September 2022, funded by the county and a Federal Highway Administration grant.

State Rep. David Cook (R), was one of the first Arizona legislator to introduce HB 2056 for $20 million and the bill had bipartisan support. However, the funds came from The Trump Administration in 2019.

“I’m elated that the bridge is nearly complete and the children finally have a safe way to get to their places of learning. The completion of the bridge is exciting,” said Cook.

Gila County received the funding under the fiscal year 2020 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) discretionary grants program, which was signed into law by the Trump Administration in 2019.

The bridge was designed to help people who cross the creek daily. At times, the creek can swell and is impassable.

Tonto Creek is nearly 73 miles long on the north edge of the Tonto National Forest and the stream flows year-round.

In November 2019, siblings Willa Rawlings, 6, and Colby Rawlings, 5, and their cousin Austin Rawlings, 5, died while trying to cross the creek.  Willa and Colby’s parents, Daniel and Lacey Rawlings, and four other children were rescued.

Daniel and Lacey Rawlings pleaded guilty to several charges. They avoided prison terms and were each sentenced to several years of probation in January 2022.

Eight people have died trying to cross the creek since 1995.

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