STRANGE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION - AMAZING NEW BRIDGE AT HOOVER DAM TAKES THE TRAFFIC LOAD OFF THE DAM HIGHWAY!
Hoover Dam bridge is America's newest wonder
By David Wallace, The Arizona Republic
The Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge rises 890 feet above the Colorado River.
It stands like a sentinel, watching in the wind over one of America's most treasured landmarks, the Hoover Dam.
When the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge opens to traffic later this week, it is expected to become an instant tourist attraction while providing a quicker, safer drive between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
PHOTOS, VIDEOS: Closer look at the bridge
The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is a study in superlatives:
• The highest and longest arched concrete bridge in the Western Hemisphere.
• The second-highest bridge of any kind in the United States and 14th in the world.
• The world's tallest concrete columns of their kind.
But what sets the bridge apart most of all is the setting.
It is perched 890 feet above the turquoise Colorado River, wedged between rock cliffs that form Black Canyon, with commanding views of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
The four-lane bridge near Boulder City, Nev., was dedicated Thursday, just two weeks after the 75th anniversary of the dam's opening ceremony. It's a bridge whose future seemed always to be in doubt.
The first study recommending a bypass was written in 1968, and over the years, 27 more studies followed. Yet it wasn't until March 2001 that the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan.
Full funding would materialize only after Arizona, Nevada and various federal agencies agreed to split the cost. The deal hinged on the states lending part of the money, knowing complete funding was years off.
Victor Mendez took over as director of the Arizona Department of Transportation in 2001 and faced the difficult task of drumming up support for the state's contribution.
"Clearly, in my mind, I felt we were going to build this project," said Mendez, who now runs the Federal Highway Administration.
The terrorist attacks in September of that year quickly made it clear that Hoover Dam wasn't just a traffic bottleneck and safety hazard but also a target.
Commercial traffic was immediately banned from U.S. 93 across Hoover Dam, forcing a 75-mile detour. The urgency to build the bridge accelerated.
Work on the $114 million bridge started on Valentine's Day 2005.
The bridge and the new stretches of U.S. 93 leading to it will open to traffic this week. Combined, the projects came in within the $240 million budget.
Attending the dedication Thursday were Mendez and his boss, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, along with members of the Tillman and O'Callaghan families.
Congress had designated the name of the bridge in a 2004 transportation bill. It honors two people from the states that the bridge connects. Pat Tillman is the Arizona Cardinals linebacker who joined the U.S. Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was killed by friendly fire during combat in Afghanistan. Mike O'Callaghan was a two-term Nevada governor and decorated Korean War veteran.
A public celebration was held Saturday.
"The view is spectacular," said Mike Hoover, a 62-year-old from Phoenix whose father's name is Herbert Hoover. "The view is spectacular. People are really going to enjoy this."
Denver resident Mike Capps, 64, has relatives in Kingman, Ariz., and visits them often. "We've been watching this bridge being built for the last eight years," he said. "We made the trip just for this. Just to be a part of it."
Views from cars crossing the dam will be partly obscured by a barrier. But pedestrians are allowed to cross on the upstream side. From there, they can look straight down through the railing at the rocks and river far below.
They also get a new perspective on the dam.
Studies from 2001 showed a motorist will save an average of 17 minutes when crossing from one side of the canyon to the other. On busy holiday weekends, the time savings could be more because the bridge eliminates tourist travel congestion and security checkpoints that have caused two-hour delays at the dam.
For Mendez, the project is a model and an advertisement to lawmakers reluctant to spend more money on public works.
"This bridge is a unique accomplishment for the nation," he said. "This is the kind of smarts and attitude we need to bring more of these projects in and put more people back to work."
As the bridge rose, the 1,200 workers and 300 engineers on the project found inspiration a quarter-mile upstream.
"If any one of us had a day when we felt tired or rundown or in doubt, working in the shadow of that dam really helped," project manager Dave Zanetell said.
"Hoover Dam was the greatest engineering accomplishment in our nation's history," he said. "We had an opportunity to be as great for our generation."