|Over the years Larry and I have crossed Hoover Dam many times traveling between Arizona and Nevada. It has always been a nightmare on holiday weekends and hasn't been much fun recently due to the ongoing bridge construction. The Bureau of Reclamation has conducted tours through the dam and powerplant since 1937. Today, close to 1,000,000 visitors a year take the tour and millions more drive across the dam. Larry and I have taken the tour many times and highly recommend it. Very interesting.
Hoover Dam was started in 1931 and used enough concrete to build a road from New York to San Francisco. It is a testimony to a country's ability to construct monolithic projects in the midst of adverse conditions. Built during the Depression, thousands of men and their families came to Black Canyon to tame the Colorado River. It took less than five years, in a harsh and barren land, to build the largest dam of its time. The stretch of water it created Lake Mead, is 110 miles long and took six years to fill. The original road was opened at the same time as the famous dam, in 1936.
Today, 900 feet above the mighty Colorado River, the two sides of a $160 million bridge slowly take shape. The bridge will carry a new section of US Route 93 past the bottleneck of the old road which can be seen twisting and winding around and across the dam itself. Work on the bridge started in 2005 and should finish in October 2010. An estimated 17,000 cars and trucks will cross it every day.
When complete, it will provide a new link between the states of Nevada and Arizona. In an incredible feat of engineering, the road will be supported by the two massive concrete arches which jut out of the rock face. The arches are made up of 53 individual sections, each 24 feet long, which have been cast on-site and are being lifted into place using an improvised high-wire crane strung between temporary steel pylons.
The arches will eventually measure more than 1,000 feet across. At the moment the structure looks like a traditional suspension bridge. But once the arches are complete, the suspending cables on each side will be removed. Extra vertical columns will then be installed on the arches to carry the road.
The bridge has become known as the Hoover Dam bypass, although it is officially called the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, after a former governor of Nevada and an American Football player from Arizona who joined the US Army and was killed in Afghanistan.
We'll be driving on the original road next month as we make our way to Arizona. Makes us a wee bit sad! We've always thought the drive over the dam was pretty cool. But time and progress march on, don't they!
One final note: In the last photo, the top of the white band of rock in Lake Mead is the old waterline prior to the drought and development in the Las Vegas area. It is over 100 feet above the current water level.