State lawmakers may take up bill that will fund Tonto Basin bridge following tragedy that killed 3 children

Arizona State Legislature

During this year's session at the Arizona State Legislature, lawmakers could take up a bill that will provide funding for a bridge in the Tonto Basin area following a deadly incident that killed three children in late 2019.

The incident happened on November 29. According to officials with the Gila County Sheriff's Office at the time, a vehicle got stuck after trying to cross Tonto Creek, and when the vehicle was found, it was nearly submerged.

One of the three children, identified as six-year-old Willa Rawlings, was found over a week following the incident in Roosevelt Lake.

Colby, Austin and Willa Rawlings (Ashley Doubt & the Rawlings Family)

State House Bill 2056 is introduced by State Rep. David L. Cook and co-sponsored by 12 other state lawmakers. If the bill is approved and signed into law, it will give ADOT $20 million to build a bridge in the Tonto Basin at the Bar X crossing.

According to a report by FOX 10 in December 2019, a 1,900-feet, east to west bridge in the area has been in the works for nearly 20 years.

Randy Robertson, a Disaster Logistics Specialist, says Gila County has secured the land and design for a bridge, and estimated in 2017 that a 1,900-feet stretch would cost $17 million.

"In my opinion, yes, these kids would still be alive if there was a bridge here today," said Robertson. 

Residents in the area have said the incident that killed the children won't be the last, as long as there is no solid infrastructure giving people a way to cross. 

"The problem is with a thousand people on this side of the creek and the fact that sometimes they can be stranded for weeks or months at a time, people get desperate," said Robertson. "On social media the other day, I saw someone say if I can’t get to work today I’ll lose my job."