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Bridge comes long way, has long way to go

Photos by Ronda Churchill

The Hoover Dam bypass is beginning to take shape after nearly five years of work. Seven soaring concrete columns -- five on the Nevada side and two on the Arizona side, forming the approach spans -- protrude from the dark rock.

But what's left to build is what project manager Dave Zanetell calls the hard part: the 1,060 twin-rib concrete arch that will span Black Canyon.

Its construction will require hoisting workers and up to 50 tons of materials 890 feet above the Colorado River via 2,300-foot-long steel cables, held aloft by a pulley-type "high-line" crane system.

The original crane towers collapsed amid 55 mph winds. Now, 17 months later, the replacement crane system is up and running.

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  • The primary contractors, a multinational conglomerate made up of Obayashi Corp. and PSM Construction USA Inc., absorbed the cost of rebuilding the crane system.

    Project officials had hoped the crane collapse would only delay the $240 million bridge project by six months. The bridge was originally to have been completed by the end of this year. But officials now believe it will open to traffic in late 2010.

    When complete, it will be the longest concrete arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, said Zanetell, who is with the Federal Highway Administration.

    But "the hardest work is yet to be done," he said.

    The arches will be made of 106 pieces -- 53 in each arch -- cast 24 feet at a time.

    The first two segments of the arch on each side of the approach spans are already complete and will act as a springboard for the remaining segments.

    Next, two towers will be erected on top of the approach spans, and cables running from the towers to the concrete segments will support the concrete segments, he said. The two towers will also be stabilized by cables running back to the canyon rim.

    The arch should be complete and self-supporting by September 2009, Zanetell said.

    Concrete columns will then be erected on top of the arch, along with the road and deck part of the bridge. The bridge will provide four lanes for the U.S. Highway 93 traffic that currently uses the two-lane route over the dam.

    Standing on the edge of the Nevada side of the approach span last week, more than 1,000 feet above the Colorado River, Zanetell said completion was within sight.

    He toured the construction site with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, who agreed.

    "It's an engineering marvel," she said.

    More than 17,000 cars and trucks are expected to use the new bridge on a daily basis, a number expected to grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years.

    More than 2,000 trucks detour around the dam daily via U.S. Highway 95 to a river crossing in Laughlin. Most truck traffic was banned from the dam after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    While waiting for the cranes to be rebuilt, engineers pushed other parts of the project forward that did not rely on the high-line crane system. The Federal Highway Administration awarded Las Vegas Paving Corp. a $7 million paving and guardrail contract for the approaching roadways.

    The paving project, which will include 60,000 tons of crushed rock, 45,000 tons of asphalt and more than 17,000 feet of guardrail, is expected to be completed this summer.

    Once the bridge is complete, a final paving contract worth about $9 million will be awarded for the roadway over the bridge as well as the tie-ins to U.S. 93.

    The bridge will include a walkway, a parking area, and a pedestrian plaza. The walkway will feature panoramic views of the Hoover Dam. Motorists driving over the bridge will not be able to see the dam from the roadway.

    The new structure will be named the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. O'Callaghan was a popular two-term governor of Nevada, and Tillman was an Arizona Cardinals football star who joined the military after the 2001 attacks and was killed accidentally by fellow U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

    Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe @reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2904.

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    az_grownup wrote on May 09, 2008 08:00 PM: This is a great project. Some of these people bashing the project and the name here on this page never grew up. Easier to be cynical and point the finger. Well, we know what finger they are getting.....

    moethegrass wrote on April 09, 2008 06:36 AM: They should name the Bridge NEVARIZ.

    The Hoover Dam was never meant to carry the load of traffic it handles now. No one ever thought it would be a tourist site either. Times change. So let's re-name the Bridge now, because its name will always be a reminder that there is Stupid and then there's Army Stupid. How do you lie about how a hero died!

    John wrote on March 31, 2008 02:53 PM: 2010, 2010, 2010!?
    Jeeze all this work so over the next 20 years our illegal Mexicans can use it...It does say that the traffic will increase by 50% over the next twenty years: That increase will largely come from illegals.
    Stop illegal imigration now, and you stop crime, traffic, poloution, medical cost increases, food stamps cost increases, the need for more bridges, DUI deaths, disease, unemployment, etc etc etc

    Illegal imigration is the MAIN cause of all society ills!

    W. J. Lea wrote on March 31, 2008 01:40 PM: Thanks for the pictures and updated info. A well needed project. Do you think the approaches will be in place by the time the bridge is done?

    Nick wrote on March 31, 2008 01:29 PM: VegasGuy -

    From the RJ's obit of O'Callaghan:

    A military document notes, "While his company was being subjected to a barrage of heavy artillery from Chinese Communists forces during a night attack, Sgt. O'Callaghan was informed that men on an out-guard post had been cut off by this enemy action. Immediately ... he voluntarily exposed himself to enemy fire, located the men and brought them, together with a wounded member, safely back from the trenches."

    He took a direct hit in the left leg from an 82 mm mortar round shortly afterward. The blast killed his squad leader, and O'Callaghan's leg was amputated below the knee.

    Despite intense pain, he rigged a tourniquet from telephone wire and used a bayonet to twist it tight around his mangled leg.

    "He crawled back to the command post," a subsequent military account notes, "and from that position, controlled platoon action for the next three and one-half hours, giving orders over the phone. Not until the enemy had withdrawn did he permit himself to be evacuated."

    Smarter Ghost of FDR wrote on March 31, 2008 01:13 PM: Hey, "Ghost of FDR" - the new bridge is downstream from the dam, so the garbage is going to flow away from the dam - not towards it!

    Mark$ wrote on March 31, 2008 12:08 PM: I hope the bronze plaque mentioning Tillman isn't just another excuse for mindless patriotic rah-rah flag-waving, like your article, repeating the official story, but will include the Tillman family's outrage over how the federal government & US military lied through the teeth & continue to cover-up the true story of Pat Tillman's death.

    Vegasguy wrote on March 31, 2008 11:59 AM: I think the article clearly states the cost was absorbed by the multi-national conglomerate and not the taxpayers.

    If you read the first few paragraphs you will catch that...LOL

    I was pleased to see they named the bridge (at least the AZ side) after a real American hero. Its not often (if ever??) you see someone turn down millions of dollars to voluntarily serve his country. Unfortunately, Mr. Tillman past away in battle. Regardless, he is ashining example of honor and patriotism in a time of selfish indulgence. You want a role model for your kids, I submit Mr. Tillman to you...

    the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt wrote on March 31, 2008 11:36 AM: i didn't approve of this bridge!! now when the cars pass through the bridge, hoover dam will be filled with cups of starbucks and mcdonalds bag motorist through out the window. this was a dumb idea!

    Tom Huck wrote on March 31, 2008 11:29 AM: These guys need to hurry up so they can start on the pipeline to rural Nevada, suck them dry baby

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