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Hoover Dam bypass bridge opens to traffic

Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge

Sam Morris

A tourist takes photos with the recently opened Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in the background Wednesday, October 20, 2010.

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 | 6:23 p.m.

Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Opens

The recently opened Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge is framed by the Hoover Dam Wednesday, October 20, 2010. 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 Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, the western hemisphere’s longest single-span concrete arch bridge, officially opened Tuesday night.

The 1,900-foot-long bridge is part of a $240 million, four-lane bypass that will reroute traffic for 3.5 miles from the two-lane bottleneck on U.S. 93 across the Hoover Dam.

National Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said the northbound lanes of the bridge opened about 9 p.m. Tuesday in Arizona and the bridge fully opened at 10 p.m.

Security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led authorities to ban commercial trucks from traveling across the dam, forcing truck drivers on the route to use a 75-mile detour.

The new Hoover Dam bypass will shorten the route for commercial shippers along the major trade corridor and reduce traffic congestion. Officials estimate the bridge will reduce the average trip between Las Vegas and Phoenix by more than 30 minutes. The speed limit on the bridge and bypass is 55 mph.

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.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dedicated the bridge in a Thursday ceremony last week and thousands of people attended a public celebration Saturday.

The bridge offers a unique view of the Hoover Dam, but only for people who get out and walk across the bridge. For passengers in most cars, the bridge’s sidewalls are too high to see the dam or much of anything else, helping to prevent people from slowing down or stopping on the bridge’s travel lanes.

But a public parking lot off the old U.S. 93 route near the dam has a path that leads to a sidewalk on the north side of the bridge for people to admire the view.

The old road over the Hoover Dam is open for tourists who want to drive across the dam and use the parking lots on the Arizona side of the river, but visitors will have to drive back across the dam and up to the interchange near the Hacienda Casino to get back onto U.S. 93. The highway no longer connects to the dam in Arizona.

Transportation officials have also issued warnings for motorists who use the bridge.

Because of the cool air under the bridge, officials said the bridge is more likely to be slippery and have icy spots than a regular roadway in the winter.

The canyon is also an area that frequently has high winds, officials said. High-profile vehicles such as trucks, RVs, campers and buses will not be allowed on the bridge if winds are more than 50 mph. Advisories will be posted on digital message signs near the bridge when needed, officials said.

While the main bypass project is complete, work on U.S. 93 in Arizona will continue until the end of the year, officials said.

Arizona is widening 15 miles of U.S. 93 south of the bridge. Once that project is done, U.S. 93 will be a four-lane highway from just outside Boulder City to Wickenburg, Ariz., about 200 miles away, officials said.

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