Discover the 4 Most Devastating Bridge Collapses in Arizona

Written by Deb Butler
Published: December 3, 2023
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Arizona has more than 8,000 bridges. Unfortunately, almost 400 of them are deemed structurally deficient or in poor condition. Despite the poor conditions of some of these bridges, several of them bear the weight and stress of thousands of crossings each day.

Not surprisingly, some people have an inexplicable fear of crossing bridges called gephyrophobia. They may choose routes without bridges to get to work, school, or other necessary destinations. Perhaps the height of the bridge causes this phobia. It could also be the loss of control when being ‘stuck’ on the bridge until the crossing’s completion, which causes them to reroute.

However, watching the aftermath of any of the tragic U.S. bridge collapses in the news is reason enough to fear bridge crossings. Many states in the U.S. have experienced disastrous bridge collapses, including Arizona. Read on to discover the four most devastating bridge collapses that Arizona has experienced.

1. Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad Bridge Collapse — 1902

Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad bridge - 1902 one of the most devastating bridge collapses

Although the updated version of the 1902 original collapsed bridge is steel, it still has spans in poor condition.

©Jan Christensen/iStock via Getty Images

The Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad Bridge was once known as the Santa Fe Bridge. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, trains would travel across this bridge to get from one side of the Salt River to the other. However, on October 29th of 19th, one train didn’t make it across.

On that day, a locomotive pulled two coach cars, a first-class Pullman car, and three freight cars across the bridge when two spans suddenly collapsed. The Pullman hung precariously from the broken bridge while the freight cars and locomotive plunged into the river below. Surprisingly, only one man and four cows died in the accident. Additionally, one man — Frank Goodrich — suffered injuries that led to his leg’s amputation.

Previous floodwater may have damaged and weakened the piers supporting the spans that collapsed. Therefore, a steel bridge was built to replace the collapsed bridge in 1905. In 1912, the bridge was further updated. The bridge stands today, but sadly, it has parts that are still in poor condition.

2. Mesa Bridge Collapse — 2007

site of partial bridge collapse in Mesa, AZ

Part of the Mesa Bridge on Loop 202 collapsed in

Mesa, AZ

, USA.

©Alan Stark from Goodyear, AZ, United States/ CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

On August 9, 2007, a 114-foot span of the Mesa bridge collapsed at its most vulnerable point in the construction process along Loop 202’s Red Mountain Freeway. While officials at the time felt the problem stemmed from a construction issue rather than a structural malfunction, it didn’t mitigate the concern about the six lanes of traffic that travel over this segment.

The collapse created rubble, which then trapped two men — construction workers — underneath. One of the men was seriously injured but survived. The second man died due to his injuries. Sadly, if a redundant design of the concrete pillars — which go around tightly stretched cables meant to support the bridge — had been in place, it would have prevented the collapse in the first place.

3. I-10 Tex Wash Bridge Collapse — 2015

Interstate 10 in Arizona-site of one of AZ most devastating bridge collapses

Interstate I-10 connects CA to AZ and beyond and is a major transportation route between the two states.

©KathyKafka/iStock via Getty Images

The Tex Wash Bridge, which carries Interstate 10 from California to Arizona, collapsed after 7 inches of rain deluged the area. Although the substantial amount of rain was a significant factor in the collapse, there were other issues as well.

Engineering experts studied the bridge collapse and attributed the failure to at least four design flaws in the bridge itself. The bridge was built in 1967, and the engineering was inferior. Here are the flaws found in the study:

  • The bridge was too short for the wide Tex Wash.
  • Foundations on both ends of the span were flimsy. Moreover, they had no piles for support beneath them.
  • The original engineers had narrowed the wash. This forced the water flow into a curved path, stressing the eastern side of the bridge.
  • There weren’t any retaining walls to funnel water inward while also preventing erosion.

The July 19, 2015 bridge collapse washed away a span, which caused the driver of a truck to crash into the open space. He was severely injured. In addition, the 30 by 50-foot collapsed portion stranded and stopped thousands of other motorists. People were forced to take 7 1/2-hour or longer detours between Phoenix and California to travel between the two states.

4. Tempe Town Lake Bridge Collapse — 2020

Sunset - Tempe Town Lake

Sunset over Tempe Town Lake in Tempe, Arizona.

©Adrian Velez/iStock via Getty Images

On July 29, 2020, a westbound Union Pacific Railroad freight train crossing the Tempe Town Lake Bridge derailed and caught fire. When the train derailed, several cars then crashed into the bridge, finally leading to the collapse of part of the bridge.

Unfortunately, just a few weeks prior to July 29th, another train derailed. The railroad company removed a guardrail in order to repair it, but they hadn’t replaced it at the time of the second derailment.

Experts who analyzed the tracks afterward noted significant disrepair and stress to the collapsed portion. In addition, they found undersized railroad ties on both sides of the track and a missing guardrail at the beginning of the bridge. The collapse could very well have been prevented with the proper maintenance of the rails.

Summary of Most Devastating Bridge Collapses in Arizona

NumberBridgeYearCause of Failure
1.Maricopa-Phoenix Railroad Bridge1902Possible damage to supporting piers from previous flooding
2.Mesa Bridge2007Torrential rains and engineering flaws
3.I-10 Tex Wash Bridge2015Several design and engineering flaws
4.Tempe Town Lake Bridge2020Train derailment and subsequent fire perhaps caused by the stress and disrepair of that part of the rail

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

I'm Deborah, and I'm an ardent animal lover and impassioned environmentalist. An educator for over 30 years, I recently retired so I could pursue my passion of writing full time. I have had many pets throughout my life, from a Russian tortoise, to fish, to cats, and dogs. My husband and I are currently owned by our very bold pug, Daisy Lu. I have two grown daughters: Chelsea, who lives in Belgium on a NATO base with her husband, Ryan, and Carissa, who lives near me and visits often.

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