The City Council has approved funding to address much-needed emergency bridge repairs downtown at the expense of over a dozen other projects throughout the city that will either be pared down or cancelled altogether.
The Drinkwater Bridge near the Civic Center and the 68th Street Bridge just north of Indian School Road deteriorated over a long period of time from water exposure, according to Scottsdale Public Works Director Dan Worth.
The city had to come up with nearly $13 million to fund the replacement of the 68th Street Bridge and repairs to Drinkwater.
The ordeal highlights the dire infrastructure situation in Scottsdale. The city’s Capital Improvement Subcommittee previously identified $650 million in crucial unfunded capital improvement needs.
“I want to make it clear to our citizens that this money has not been tucked away somewhere waiting to be spent,” Councilwoman Virginia Korte said while discussing the issue at a meeting.
She asked voters to remember this situation in the future when the council potentially comes forward with a bond to fund infrastructure improvements.
Councilmember David Smith expressed similar sentiments.
“I do want to make sure people know this is a dramatic budget increase impact that was unplanned and we don’t have a bond coverage for it; we don’t have any coverage for it,” he said.
He noted that the only way the city can pay for it is through shrinking or cutting existing projects.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality,” Smith said.
Staff identified funding sources for the bridges by pulling savings from completed projects and canceling several previously-funded capital improvement projects and annually-funded programs.
68th Street Bridge
Two lanes on the bridge were closed in January following a regular inspection that revealed deterioration. A more thorough examination revealed that the entire bridge needed to be replaced.
The decaying portion of the bridge was built in the 1950s and deteriorated from the reaction between concrete and water that took place over many years.
“It had 50 years of exposure to water on a daily basis,” Worth said.
The city was able to keep one lane open on a stretch constructed in the 1980s.
City staff has estimated that the cost of replacing the bridge will be $4.65 million.
Of that cost, $700,000 will be offset by savings from completed improvements along Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and savings from the construction of the Mustang Transit Passenger Facility located along 90th Street between Shea Boulevard and Mountain View Road.
The rest of the funds, $3.9 million, are coming from projects that are being cancelled or having their budgets reduced to just work that has already been completed.
These projects include a cancelled trail connections program at WestWorld and other trails and street improvements throughout the city.
The bridge replacement will also take funds from the Bikeways Program, an annually-funded program used to create new bike connections throughout the city.
Construction of the project will take place during a tight timeline from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2019. The abbreviated schedule is necessitated by an SRP canal dry-up that will give workers the access they need to construct the new bridge.
The next dry-up on that stretch of canal will not happen for another eight to 10 years.
“If we didn’t do this now, construction would be virtually impossible,” City Engineer Dave Lipinski said at a presentation to the City Council.
The city will also take advantage of the dry-up to construct improvements on the Pima Road Bridge, which was already funded in the city’s capital improvements budget.
Staff identified deteriorating concrete underneath the Drinkwater Bridge back in 2014 and hired Caruso Turley Scott to investigate the cause.
They discovered that water from a leaking fountain and irrigated turf on top of the bridge had leaked through the deck and damaged several parts.
“The bridge had waterproofing to protect the concrete deck, but even the best waterproofing fails over time,” Worth said.
Earlier this year, the City Council allocated $491,665.58 for repair work. During that work, the contractor Haydon Building Corporation discovered significant areas of loose concrete and deterioration, necessitating the closing of the bridge.
City staff now estimate that repairs to the bridge will cost $8.5 million.
It would have cost the city an additional $5 million to completely rebuild the bridge, Lipinski said.
The project will receive $360,000 that was saved from the construction of the Mustang transit facility.
The project will pull $2.4 million from a cancelled project to pave unpaved roads that was funded with transportation sales tax dollars. It will take an additional $495,000 from cancelled plans to build a storage yard for street operations in the northern part of the city.
It will also take $200,000 from a sidewalk improvement plan funded by transportation sales tax dollars.
The rest of the funds will come from transfers from undesignated transportation funds in the CIP and the capital improvement project contingency budget in the general fund.
The first phase of the project is expected to begin in December and is slated for completion in fall 2019.
Planning for the future
The emergency situation created by the failure of the bridges has left some residents questioning who is to blame.
That is not an easy question to answer.
Worth, the public works director, said that city staff regularly inspect bridges and other pieces of city infrastructure to ensure they are safe.
“That is where we found these issues,” Worth said. “Maintenance staff identified the issues on the Drinkwater Bridge during routine maintenance.”
Ultimately, finding funding is the major roadblock to repairing the city’s aging infrastructure.
“There are about $200 million in street improvements needs we have identified and that been through an extensive prioritization process,” Worth said. “We are having a hard time coming up with the funding to take care of them, and that is just streets.”
Worth said overall there is around $800 million in capital improvement needs in the city – and that does not include unforeseen issues.
Still, even with those restraints, Worth emphasized that city staff will do everything in its power to keep roads and bridges safe.
“I just want to emphasize that our first priority is taking care of the safety of the public,” he said.
Both Councilmember Smith and Mayor Jim Lane commended city staff for coming up with a plan to address the bridge issues that costs less than they initially anticipated it would, though Smith took issue with staff’s plans to pull some funds from the general fund without a plan laid out on how to repay it.
“What we’ve got here is a very good display of how management here has been able to respond to some nearly emergency situations with regards to maintaining our structure and transportation patterns here in downtown,” Lane said.