Some 17,000 drivers cross the 68th Street Bridge over the Arizona Canal heading to and from Old Town, but that will change in January when the 60-year-old bridge is torn down and replaced.
It’s one of two city bridges faced with emergency repair or replacement this budget year after inspectors found missing concrete, exposed rebar and other deterioration.
The other is Drinkwater Bridge, built in the mid-1980s to provide an underpass for traffic and a grassy Civic Center Mall with public art such as the city’s iconic LOVE statute for pedestrians above. The area already is closed to the public.
In all, Arizona Department of Transportation inspectors turned up five city bridges that need repairs. The other three can be handled over time, according to the city.
Scottsdale officials are scrambling to find funds to pay for the emergency bridge work. They also are still determining the costs as the projects are under design.
‘Years and years of neglect’
Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane and Councilman David Smith told The Arizona Republic that the work is long overdue.
“What these bridge failures are evidence of is years and years of neglect of replacing and maintaining our infrastructure,” Smith said. “Now we’re seeing evidence real time, where bridges are being closed because they’re failing.”
Smith unsuccessfully pushed this spring to ask Scottsdale voters for a bond measure to handle some of the city’s $650 million in infrastructure needs. The council opted instead to ask voters in November for a 0.1 percent sales tax hike that would raise an estimated $100 million over 10 years for transportation projects and unlock millions in county transportation funds.
Lane said if voters approve the sales-tax hike, he hopes the money it generates could go toward projects that will need to be sacrificed to handle the emergency bridge work.
What caused 68th Street Bridge problems
Two of four lanes on the 68th Street Bridge were closed to traffic in January after inspectors warned the city of the failing structure.
“The rebarbs were getting splashed with water from underneath, which caused them to rust and kind of fall apart,” said Jeremy Richter, the city’s capital projects manager.
Testing found abnormally high amounts of chloride, or salt, on the bridge’s four concrete spans.
Chlorides are extremely difficult to remove from concrete and cause corrosion of the reinforcing steel, weakening the structure, according to the inspection report.
A brand-new 68th Street Bridge
The 68th Street bridge will be demolished in a 16-hour period on Jan.11, timed with a routine draining of the canal.
At the request of Salt River Project, which operates the canal, the new bridge will be 18 inches higher than the current bridge, which is near the water line.
“The current bridge is right where their operational level is,” Richter said. “They want a bit of safety in there for large storms.”
Because the bridge must be raised, the intersection at 68th Street and Indian School Road also must be raised. The city hopes to make the intersection more efficient with a traffic roundabout after the bridge work is complete, Richter said.
The bridge- and roadwork should be completed by mid-June.
Scottsdale-contracted inspectors reported falling concrete under the Civic Center’s Drinkwater Bridge in 2014.
At fault is a reflecting pond above the bridge.
“Over the years, the water has leaked into the concrete and done damage,” said Paul Basha, the city’s transportation director.
The top of the bridge, which is the grassy open space of the Civic Center Mall, closed to all activity in late July. The city is working to determine the length and extent of the closure.
The city’s online project page says the area will be closed to all activity through at least November, possibly longer.
The city must repair the bridge, not replace it.
Routine work on Pima Road Bridge
Other bridge work in this year’s city budget includes the widening of the Pima Road Bridge during the canal dry-up in January. The $2 million project was scheduled as part of the Pima Road widening.
The larger road project is expected to cost $8.2 million and take Pima Road to four lanes, with a landscaped median, bike lanes, sidewalk and drainage improvements from Pinnacle Peak Road to Happy Valley Road.
The bridge work, funded by the Maricopa Association of Governments, the city’s transportation tax and the Salt River Pima Maricopa-Indian Community, should be done in mid-June.
The state of Scottsdale bridges
Scottsdale has 231 bridges and the state inspected about half of them in 2018.
The three other bridges identified for repairs included Drain Channel bridge on 64th Street, an Arizona Canal bridge on Goldwater Boulevard and a reinforced concrete bridge on 117th Way.
Overall, the city’s bridges are in good shape, although a third of them require maintenance, according to inspection reports.
The city’s oldest bridge is the Indian Bend Overflow Bridge on Indian School Road, built in 1929.
About 8 percent of the city’s bridges were built before 1970. Most were built after 1975 as the city saw more rapid growth.
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