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Feds Award $22M TIGER Grant for I-15 Virgin River Bridge Rehabilitation

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

Photo Credit: ADOT

Ignore it. Refuse to fund it. Charge a toll. These were just some of the state’s reaction to needed I-15 improvements on the short stretch of the interstate slipping through Arizona’s Virgin River Gorge. This less than 30 mile segment of freeway is in Arizona, but offers no access to any Arizona urban or tourist center.

This fact strengthened Arizona’s resolve to put little or no money into any I-15 improvements. Short of getting the federal government to pick up most of the tab — $21.6M  out of the $27M project, Arizona was not going to do anything to improve the road. Charging a toll on the highway segment was one legislator’s suggestion.

Now the 40-year old bridge is slated for design and construction in 2013 with a targeted completion in 2015. No solicitations have yet been released for the project. The grant is a welcome respite to a state struggling to fund major transportation improvements. ADOT and local governments are struggling to meet needs because of the state legislature’s continuing raids on highway funds.

Arizona had no interest in the orphan freeway segment. With the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER IV) grants awarded, a June 22nd news release reports ADOT now says it “remains committed to the I-15 corridor.”

The only north-south interstate highway permitting triple truck trailers, I-15’s bridge number 6 was structurally deficient for the traffic load. Passing through the environmentally sensitive river gorge was the per mile cost most expensive rural freeway segment ever built. The rehabilitation is expected to be a challenging project.

More than $10.2B in applications were submitted for TIGER grants. Only $500M was available. The Virgin Gorge bridge is the only Arizona project to come away with funding. In 2010, Tucson was awarded funding for its modern streetcar project that is now under construction. No other Arizona applications have ever received TIGER funding.

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