Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge Prepares For Travelers The bridge, almost 900 feet above the Colorado River, will open to traffic sometime this week. Once open, the bypass will be the shortest route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
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Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge Prepares For Travelers

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Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge Prepares For Travelers

Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge Prepares For Travelers

Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge Prepares For Travelers

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Officially named the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, the 1,900-foot-long structure sits 890 feet above the Colorado River, about a quarter of a mile downstream from the Hoover Dam. The $240 million project to relieve vehicle traffic on the Hoover Dam began in 2003, and is scheduled to open to traffic sometime this week. Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration hide caption

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Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration

Officially named the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, the 1,900-foot-long structure sits 890 feet above the Colorado River, about a quarter of a mile downstream from the Hoover Dam. The $240 million project to relieve vehicle traffic on the Hoover Dam began in 2003, and is scheduled to open to traffic sometime this week.

Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration

The Hoover Dam is an American landmark, perhaps the quintessential public works project, built during the Great Depression to provide power and irrigation to the West.

Now, the Hoover Dam has company: a new bypass bridge -- another engineering marvel just downstream, spanning the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona.

Once open, the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge will be the shortest route between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration hide caption

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Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration

Once open, the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge will be the shortest route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Federal Highway Administration

The bridge, almost 900 feet above the Colorado River, will open to traffic sometime this week. Highway officials are refraining from announcing the day to avoid a crush of vehicles trying to be the first to cross.

One of the highest bridges in the world, the Hoover Dam bypass bridge rises 726 feet above the bedrock. It has the longest single concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere -- a semicircle that echoes the graceful curve of the dam upstream. The arch, curving downward on either side, supports the four-lane roadway on top. It took five years for it to literally come together, section by section from either side.

Erik Dozier worked on the steel cables that held molds for the concrete sections as they were being poured. He says every part of the construction process was a thrill for him.

"I've been excited all morning, couldn't sleep last night. And [I'm] looking forward to seeing a lot of friends I haven't seen in a while and seeing the finished product," Dozier said on the morning of a special sneak peek of the completed bridge for workers and officials.

During construction, many of the workers spent their days perched high in the air. One worker was killed during construction and a support tower collapsed during a storm.

The completion of the bridge's arch was the most exciting moment for engineering manager Terry Pawlawski, who calls the Hoover Dam bypass bridge a "once-in-a-lifetime project."

At the time of its construction during the Great Depression, the Hoover Dam was also hailed as a monumental effort. Standing on top of the dam, tourists Jim Setser and Floyd Irwin marveled at the bridge about 1,500 feet away.

"It's incredible. We're from Boston, and it's the first time we've ever seen a bridge that big," Setser says.

The structure is officially called the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, named after a former governor of Nevada and the Arizona Cardinals football player and soldier who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Locals walk across the new Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Officials expect it to carry about 15,000 vehicles a day. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Locals walk across the new Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Officials expect it to carry about 15,000 vehicles a day.

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

After opening to traffic, the bridge will become the shortest route between Phoenix and Las Vegas -- a title that for the past 75 years has belonged to the two-way road over the top of the Hoover Dam, where traffic has been bumper to bumper for decades. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Hoover Dam has been considered a high-risk target, and large trucks have been forbidden from crossing altogether.

Trucker Bret Bartley says he has been waiting about five years for the bridge to open, and when it does, he, along with thousands of other truckers, will save at least an hour each way on trips between Arizona and Nevada.

"If I can reduce the cost to the truck for the trip, then that just benefits my company and benefits me down the road," Bartley says.

Bridge Photos From NPR's 'The Picture Show'

The bypass bridge was built for commerce, but it is already a tourist attraction. Like the Hoover Dam, people can park and walk across. Highway officials expect the new bridge to carry about 15,000 vehicles a day as soon as it opens, and thousands more over the next few years.