Hoover Dam & the new Memorial Bridge...
May 12, 2011
|As I mentioned in my earlier post, we were looking forward to seeing & crossing the new Memorial Bridge near Hoover Dam. What a disappointment! There wasn't even much of a feeling of being on a bridge. As we neared Hoover Dam, in the rig and on the bypass, signs directed all high profile vehicles to the lanes closest to the center (presumably so high winds wouldn't push us into Black Canyon). We grudgingly obeyed the signs and all of a sudden we were on the other side! It just seemed like a segment of the road all of a sudden got very windy, and then we were over it, being greeted by the "Welcome to Arizona" sign. Although we could see people to the side on the pedestrian walkway, we didn't see any exits or places to park. There is a 54 inch concrete wall so we could see nothing of the Colorado River, the dam, or Lake Mead.
So, last week on our return trip to Lake Pleasant, Arizona, without the rig, Larry & I stopped to get a 'real' look of the new Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, touted to be the 7th highest bridge in the world. I'm sure you are aware that prior to completion of this project, the existing route of U.S. 93 used the top of Hoover Dam to cross the Colorado River. U.S. Highway 93 is the major commercial corridor between the states of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. It is also on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) route between Mexico and Canada and was identified as a high priority corridor in the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. The traffic congestion caused by the inadequacy of the existing highway across the dam imposed a serious economic burden on the states of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
The traffic volumes, combined with the sharp curves in the vicinity of Hoover Dam, also created a potentially dangerous situation. After 9-11, officials feared that a major catastrophe could occur, involving innocent bystanders, millions of dollars in property damage to the dam and its facilities, contamination of the waters of Lake Mead or the Colorado River, and interruption of the power and water supply for people in the Southwest.
By developing an alternate crossing of the river near Hoover Dam, through-vehicle and truck traffic were removed from the top of the dam. This new route eliminated the above mentioned problems with the former highway, as well as sharp turns, narrow roadways, inadequate shoulders, poor sight distance, and low travel speeds.
The Bridge(its official name is the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge) is an engineering marvel on par with Hoover Dam itself. Costing a whopping $240 million, the 1,060-foot arched structure joins the Arizona and Nevada approach highways. It's support arch is the longest arch in the Western Hemisphere, holding up 1,900 feet of roadway that also leans on 300-foot-long concrete pillars. Those columns are some of tallest in the world. More than 1,200 laborers and 300 engineers worked on the bridge for more than 5 years.
In addition to the bridge, new construction included a hiking trail, an interpretive plaza, and a 4 foot wide pedestrian walkway. For tourists, it’s the walkway that’s getting all the buzz – it’s built on the north side of the Bridge, 900 feet above the mighty Colorado River and offers a fantastic panoramic view of Hoover Dam and the Black Canyon gorge. It is a beautiful view, and not to be missed if you are going by Hoover Dam.
Accessing the walkway requires a 45 foot climb using either stairs or a switchback ramp. There are no dogs allowed, except for service animals, and it was too hot to leave Onyx alone in the truck, so I ramped my way up to the walkway alone. Well, I wasn't exactly alone, there were at least 50 others up there with me. Larry & Onyx found a nice shady bench, a vet to chat with, and patiently waited for my return. Thanks honey, I had to take a few quick pics!!!
There is a separate parking lot for those wanting to walk the bridge, and, at least for now there is no charge. There are three pull-through parking spots for RVs or busses, a reasonable amount of car parking spots, and four port-a-potties. The lot is accessed from Exit 2 (the exit for Hoover Dam) on the Nevada side. It is not clearly marked, so watch for it carefully, it's easy to sail right on by. After you take the exit, and before you get to the Dam, you'll come across the parking lot.
After you finish viewing the dam & canyon from the bridge, you can continue on down the same road about a half mile for some sightseeing at the Hoover Dam, but be warned that you can't rejoin U.S. 93 on the Arizona side. The Hoover Dam road exit dead ends about one mile past the Dam on the Arizona side. But it's easy to turn back around to exit. There is lots of parking at the Dam, and a walkway leading from the Dam parking garage up to the bridge stairs. The fee for the parking garage is $7, but there is some free parking on the Arizona side.
In conclusion, if you've never been, I highly endorse the Hoover dam as a tourist activity if you're in Vegas. As long as you're going there, allow an extra hour to walk the bridge. You'll be glad you did.