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Hoover Dam bypass bridge gets warm welcome at dedication

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Justin M. Bowen

A view of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is shown Thursday, October 14, 2010, during the bridge’s dedication.

Updated Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 | 4:14 p.m.

Hoover Dam Bridge Dedication

A view of Hoover Dam from the pedestrian walkway on the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is shown Thursday, October 14, 2010, during the bridge's dedication. Launch slideshow »

Dedication of Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

The Hoover Dam bypass bridge is officially completed. Federal and state dignitaries from Nevada and Arizona dedicated the 1,900-foot-long bridge Thursday, October 14, 2010.

The dedication ceremony Thursday of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge brought together states and cultures.

The bridge is the centerpiece of the Hoover Dam bypass, joining Nevada and Arizona with a quicker and safer route for U.S. 93 between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The dedication featured both states, with an honor guard from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the national anthem sung by students from Kingman, Ariz., and politicians from both states praising the structure.

The event also incorporated representatives of the native people who once lived on the land and used the Colorado River where the dam and bridge now stand. A spiritual leader from the Southern Paiute Tribe in Nevada offered a blessing and members of tribes from Nevada and Arizona took turns dancing on the new bridge.

The project was a group effort under the direction of the Federal Highway Administration along with the Arizona Department of Transportation; the Nevada Department of Transportation; the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the Hoover Dam; the National Park Service, which runs the Lake Mead National Recreation Area; and the Western Area Power Administration, which runs the power transmission lines that go to the dam.

“The bridge shows what we can achieve when we set aside individual agendas and work toward a partnership,” said Victor Mendez, the federal highway administrator. “I hope that serves as a model for the future.”

Work on the $240 million bypass project began in 2003. The bridge itself cost $114 million and is 1,900-feet long. It includes the longest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere and is believed to be the second-highest bridge in the nation, at 890 feet above the Colorado River.

“The real credit today goes to the thousands of men and women who planned, designed and built the bridge,” Mendez said. “Working in steep and dangerous terrain in temperatures that topped 100 degrees on 374 days, they left a legacy worthy of the people who built the dam itself three-quarters of a century ago. We owe them our thanks for their hard work, their skill and dedication.”

Many of the 1,200 people who worked on the bridge were at the dedication with their families.

Michelle Killmon and Chris Greedy didn’t physically build the bridge themselves, but they worked in the office on the construction site for Obayashi, one of the two main contractors.

“We never swung a hammer, but we did a part,” Killmon said.

The whole process was like having a baby, she said, “Watching it grow from nothing to a complete project.”

The dedication was both a sad and happy day, like seeing a child leave home, Greedy said.

“It’s exciting because it’s all done, but now we don’t have this monumental project,” she said.

“The next one won’t be as exciting,” Killmon added.

In addition to the main bridge, the bypass project includes 3 1/2 miles of roadway and a number of smaller bridges leading to the main bridge.

The bridge is named for Mike O’Callaghan, a former Nevada governor and executive editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and Pat Tillman, an Arizona Cardinals football player who joined the Army and was killed in Afghanistan. Both died in the spring of 2004.

Representatives of the O’Callaghan and Tillman families participated in the dedication.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said O’Callaghan was the best friend he ever had, except for his wife.

“Mike was born to bring people together. More than anyone I’ve ever met, he was born to serve others,” he said. “I never had the honor of meeting Pat Tillman, but I share the nation’s admiration for him.”

The bridge includes a pedestrian walkway with views of the dam, which is 1,700 feet upstream from the river below the bridge. Once the bridge opens to vehicles next week, visitors still will be able to walk across the bridge or drive across the dam, but will have to use an exit near the Hacienda Hotel.

Before cars use the bridge, the public will be given one more chance Saturday to explore it on foot. More than 20,000 people have registered to attend the event.

To fund the project, $100 million came from the federal government and Nevada and Arizona contributed $20 million each. An additional $100 million in bonds were issued by the two states to finish the project, and most of those bonds already have been repaid.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the bridge will help improve the economies of the two states and is a crucial part of an effort to build a future interstate, Interstate 11.

“I-11 will be the transportation corridor connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas, two of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, promoting commerce, tourism and trade across the western United States,” she said.

Reid voiced his support for another section of the proposed interstate, the Boulder City bypass, which would connect the Hoover Dam bypass to the Henderson portion of U.S. 93 with a freeway.

“As long as I’m Nevada’s senior senator, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the Boulder City bypass is finished,” he said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood used the bridge dedication to reflect on the past and look to the future of the nation’s transportation system.

The Hoover Dam is the “best known living legacy” of the New Deal, LaHood said. Now this bridge will be a similar symbol for this generation and the Great Recession.

“It reaffirms a powerful idea, Americans can still build great things not just in spite of economic challenges, but as a means of overcoming them,” he said. “This breathtaking dam and beautiful new bridge also demonstrate a larger point: Daring projects do not solve today’s problems, they support tomorrow’s possibilities.”

There is still major work to be done, he said.

“For the most part we are still living off of yesterday’s investment,” LaHood said. “This bridge above us, this monument to America’s can-do spirit, reminds us that it’s not too late for our generation to pass on a more perfect union to our kids and grandkids. We can still dream big and we hope that we will. We can roll up our sleeves and make this nation’s infrastructure the envy of the world once again, and if we work together in a bipartisan way, we will do exactly that.

“Now I know that the Hoover Dam is one of the wonders of the world,” he said. “I don’t know who gives that designation, but I hope the bridge will become another wonder of the world and if it does, there will be a lot of credit to go around.”

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