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3 years after 3 kids drowned, Tonto Creek Bridge finally breaks ground to prevent the tragedy from happening again

Residents in Tonto Basin are thrilled to see the bridge finally become a reality.

PHOENIX — Tonto Basin is a beautiful community overshadowed by heartache.

Prone to flooding any time of year; water fills Tonto Creek often. With no safe way around it, people must wait. However, some try and drive through, a choice that has proven deadly many times. 

The latest was in 2019 when three young children drowned after the truck they were in was taken by floodwaters.

"That's some images inscribed in my mind and heart it's hard to see," said resident Randy Roberson. "As a husband and father, to see that couple dealing with the loss of kids, that's heartbreaking for anybody."

On Tuesday, officials broke ground on the Tonto Creek Bridge. They hope the roadway that will help save lives when flood waters rise.

"For most of the year, it'll be a perfectly dry creek crossing, and then it's punctuated with moments of sheer terror. It's like the Mississippi," Roberson said.

"I grew up knowing this creek floods, and it's deadly, it's dangerous," said resident Laycie Burghart. It's gotten very dangerous."

"During the spring with the snow melt, you can get some long sustained periods of flooding which has kept people stranded for three weeks at a time," said Roberson.

After years of talk, residents are thrilled to see the bridge finally become a reality.

"I'm kind of excited for it just with the fact having a better, safer crossing, getting my kids to school, we need it, yeah, we do," said Burghart and Finch.

"It'll be safer and easier, a lot less wear and tear on vehicles, less chances taken, I think it's super positive," said Roberson.

Some longtime residents aren't sure about it, saying they worry about the change it'll bring. There's also fear more it'll encourage more people to come to the area. However, many say it's past due.

"I can't believe it's finally happening," said Finch.

"It's sad it's taken this long, and that's what it took, but it's about time," echoed Burghart.

And as they now wait to see it come to life, they're looking for brighter and safer days ahead, thinking about the lives it could've saved.

"It's pretty emotional you can feel it in the air," said Burghart.

Through all the devastation, residents say they'd like to see some sort of memorial incorporated honoring the lives of those who were killed, those they feel the bridge could've saved.

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