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A new commuter bypass/bridge opens another world to tourists at Nevada’s storied 75-year-old attraction.
Since its dedication 75 years ago, millions have traveled from near and far to marvel at Hoover Dam, one of modern engineering’s most remarkable achievements. Tourist traffic to this historic attraction began the day the first bucket of concrete was poured in 1933. Even in challenging times of world war and heightened security, the flow of visitors to this landmark energy producer in the desert Southwest has remained steady. With the opening of a new bypass/bridge this November, tourists will flock to Hoover Dam, the finest concrete structure of its day, with renewed enthusiasm and vigor.
The Hoover Dam Bypass, which includes the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, is a prodigious engineering feat of its own. This concrete-steel arch bridge and its four-lane highway were built to relieve traffic atop Hoover Dam, which in turn will improve the experience of travelers who put the icon on a future itinerary. Located about one-quarter of a mile south of the dam, the bridge will accommodate the enormous volume of traffic between Southern Nevada and Arizona.
The bypass will leave the famous two-lane section of road across the top of Hoover Dam solely to sightseers. The separation of tourist and commuter traffic will reduce travel time to and from the dam. Also, less congestion on the curved roadway will make it easier and safer to maneuver. “Time spent at the dam will be longer and more relaxed,” says Kathy Stewart, one of 32 Hoover Dam tour guides. “Visitors can enjoy the true beauty of the dam and everything it has to offer.”
Echoing those sentiments, Earl Jobson of popular Arizona/Nevada tour company Pink Jeep Tours says, “The bridge will definitely enhance the Hoover Dam experience for our guests. Traffic congestion will be reduced, allowing visitors greater freedom to experience this magnificent attraction in a much quieter environment.”
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Hoover Dam and its facilities, understands and embraces its heightened level of responsibility to tourists. “We want to create our own identity, since the traffic coming to us will only be those who want to see Hoover Dam,” says Ken Rice, manager of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Dams Area Office. “We will be developing new program features that will add to the experience.”
Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and Federal Highways Administration funds will be used for some of those future projects and enhancements. One of the most involved tasks is creating trail access to the pedestrian sidewalk built on the north side of the bridge. This feature, currently under construction, will also include an interpretive plaza and limited car, motor home, and bus parking. The pedestrian sidewalk will offer spectacular photo opportunities of Hoover Dam.
STILL TO COME
There are plans for a vehicle turnaround and parking facility on the Arizona side, a shade structure over the escalators going to the visitor center and interactive exhibit gallery, a series of themed interpretive kiosks in the historic Spillway House and various parking lots, and venues for private parties to hold special events at the dam.Long-term plans include developing a trail, on the Arizona side, to the World War II military bunker that overlooks the dam. The bunker was used after the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor for security reasons.
For biking and running enthusiasts, the River Mountains Loop Trail connects to the trailhead for the Historic Railroad Trail (tunnel hike) located just below Lake Mead’s Alan Bible Visitor Center. The trail ends at the top of the Hoover Dam parking garage. There is a five-year master plan to improve the trail surface and grade and add other services such as drinking fountains, vault toilets, bike racks, and bike-lock areas.
Visitors paid 25 cents when guided tours of the dam began in 1937; today they pay $11 for the Powerplant Tour or $30 for the longer, more comprehensive Hoover Dam Tour. The former tour includes a stop on the balcony that overlooks the massive power-plant generators. The Hoover Dam Tour provides guided access to secured areas inside the walls of the dam through narrow inspection tunnels. In these passageways, one sees beautifully tiled walls, aluminum art deco light fixtures, terrazzo tile floors with intricate designs, and inspection markings left on the walls decades ago. A highlight is the breathtaking view, including of the new bridge, from one of the air-vent openings on the river side of the dam.
There is also the chance to view a topographical model of the 1,400-mile-long Colorado River featuring the locations of dams and reservoirs along the river. The display is housed in the recently restored Original Exhibit Building, used as a headquarters for soldiers who protected the dam during World War II. Fantastic photo opportunities present themselves from observation areas that provide panoramic views of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River, and the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
On the day before Hoover Dam was dedicated on September 30, 1935, a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote about an enormous, beautiful rainbow that arched over the desert as caravans of cars made their way to Hoover Dam. Seventy-five years later, a spectacular bridge that permanently arches over the Colorado River symbolizes a bright future and continued prosperity for Hoover Dam.
This footage was taken in February 2010.
The Hoover Dam Bypass has—much like any bridge, building, or park—had a name since its very conception. The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge was named years before the first commuter touches its road deck this November. This, however, was not the case for Hoover Dam. For more than a decade before the first concrete was poured, and even longer after the waters of Lake Mead filled behind it, Hoover Dam’s name was a point of contention.
The debate started in 1921 when the original site selected to build the dam was Boulder Canyon, and the ensuing act of Congress was titled the Boulder Canyon Project Act. In 1928, the collapse of California’s St. Francis Dam sparked concern over the proposed site, and further study resulted in the project moving downstream to Black Canyon. Despite the location change, the name Boulder Dam stuck.
Just months after Herbert Hoover took office in early 1929, a bill to name the dam after him was proposed. The bill failed, but the debate continued. In September 1930, during a dedication of the Union-Pacific Railroad branch that would carry supplies to build the dam, Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur announced that the dam would be named for Hoover, and for a time, all official references reflected the new name.
Thanks to the stock market crash of 1929, Hoover’s presidential tenure ended with the 1932 election. The administration under newly elected Franklin D. Roosevelt listened to the cries of disgruntled citizens who blamed Hoover for the Great Depression, and, in 1933, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes issued a memorandum that effectively changed the name back to Boulder Dam.
For the next 14 years the debate seemed closed, until a 1947 resolution to restore the name “Hoover Dam” revisited the issue. The resolution passed the Senate, and then President Harry Truman signed it into law. For several years thereafter, promotional material referred to the dam as “Hoover (Boulder) Dam” until it was perceived that sufficient time had passed for name-recognition confusion to subside. The name has remained unchanged.—Charlie Johnston
President Herbert Hoover mediates the approval of the Colorado River Compact. The resulting agreement leads to passage of the Boulder Canyon Project Act.
March 11, 1931
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation opens bids for the construction of Hoover Dam and Powerplant. The contract is awarded to Six Companies for a winning bid of nearly $49 million.
June 6, 1933
The first concrete is poured at the Hoover Dam construction site. Between 1931 and 1936 when the dam was built, 96 men were killed in industrial accidents. None were buried in the concrete.
September 30, 1935
President Franklin D. Roosevelt attends and speaks at the dedication of Hoover Dam, now a National Historic Landmark. The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated it one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the Hoover Dam Bypass construction project takes place. It was determined that the two-lane highway across the dam, U.S. 93, could no longer handle the more than 14,000 vehicles and trucks that use it daily.
Work begins on the Nevada Approach, which lasts until late 2005. The section is one of six distinct, yet overlapping, phases of bypass construction.
The most extensive contruction phase of the bypass project, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, begins. This section takes nearly six years to complete. The arch span is 1,060 feet long, and the bridge is 1,900 feet long. Above Photo: Julie Duewel/NDOT
October 16, 2010
A “Bridging America” event will celebrate the Hoover Dam Bypass/bridge opening. Watch video here. The bypass should be complete, with traffic moving on it, by November of this year.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation—Lower Colorado Region
HOOVER DAM VISITOR CENTER
Open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., except Thanksgiving & Christmas
Adults, Seniors, Juniors, & U.S. Military—$8
Children 3 & younger—Free
Open 8 a.m.-5:45 p.m. (parking fee: $7)
The Hoover Dam Powerplant Tour offers a panoramic view of the 650-foot-long Nevada wing of the powerplant and eight of the dam’s 17 huge generators. Photo: Connie Mancillas
HOOVER DAM TOUR INFORMATION
Summer: First tour at 9:15 a.m.; last ticket sold at 5:15 p.m.
Winter: First tour is at 9:15 a.m.; last ticket sold at 4:15 p.m.
U.S. Military in Uniform—Free
Children 3 & younger—Free
*Includes admission to the Visitor Center. Tickets can be purchased in advance.
**Hoover Dam Tour
Adults, Seniors, Juniors, & U.S. Military—$30
Children 8 & younger—Not permitted
**Includes admission to the Visitor Center, Powerplant, & Dam passageways. This tour is not accessible for visitors with wheelchairs or crutches, and tickets cannot be purchased in advance.