Maricopa County officials have declared a state of emergency in an effort to hasten repairs on the heavily damaged Alma School Road bridge in Mesa and procure federal disaster relief funds.
County spokesman Al Macias said the Board of Supervisors signed the emergency order Friday to fasttrack the hiring of a contractor to fix a 20-foot section of the bridge that slid away Wednesday into the rushing Salt River.
Macias said the declaration also will allow county officials to file paperwork for federal disaster funds, but he insisted that the bridge itself is structurally sound even though a section of the roadway it holds above the river has been obliterated.
"It’s really a precautionary measure — we don’t want to scare anybody," Macias said.
Under low-hanging storm clouds, county work crews rushed Friday to fortify riverbanks with large rocks and chunks of concrete to protect the major crossing between Loop 202 and McKellips Road from further water damage.
Gray clouds, the cold and construction barriers kept most spectators away from the bridge, but a few tossed river rocks into the flowing river from hills along McKellips Road.
Bulldozers moved earth and rocks to the riverbanks, working against the clock as Salt River Project officials announced that water rushing through the area would soon increase from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 10,000 cubic feet.
SRP made the decision to release more water from a dam at Bartlett Lake in anticipation of more storms expected to hit the state through Tuesday, spokesman Scott Harelson said.
"We’re just kind of bracing for both possibilities," he said. "If these next couple of storms are on the wet side, we’ll have significant releases."
Harelson said SRP delayed the release as long as it could until 6 p.m. Friday to give the county time to work on the bridge.
Roger Ball, spokesman for the county department of transportation, said he expected crews to finish working at the site Friday night.
Their work should help stop whirlpools forming at the sides of the bridge and eroding more of the roadway leading to the bridge’s south end, he said.
The road will be closed for the next few weeks, Ball said. McKellips Road also is closed east of Alma School where it crosses the Salt River.
The county initially planned to build a dike east of the bridge to reroute water toward the center of the river, away from the bridge’s sides, but Ball said crews ran out of time and material Friday.
Runoff from three storms expected during the next several days could further strain the structure. Meteorologist Doug Green of the National Weather Service in Phoenix said northern Arizona probably will get the brunt of the storms, with 5.1 inches expected for that part of the state during the next five days, according to the service’s national forecast.
"It’s going to exacerbate the runoff problems," Green said. "It’s a hydrologic concern right now with all the snow on the ground and the rain on top of it."
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff predicted the area could receive 4 to 12 inches of new snow in elevations above 6,000 feet by late Saturday.
The East Valley has the best chance for heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday, Green said.
The weather service’s national forecast shows the area getting as much as 2 inches by Tuesday.
High temperatures will remain in the high 50s to low 60s until the third, and colder, storm hits early next week. Then they will drop to the mid- to low 50s, the forecast shows.
The state is expected to have another break from rainstorms beginning Wednesday, with high temperatures returning to the 60s by the end of the week.