Named for heroes from different wars, the bridge designed to speed traffic by bypassing the area around the Hoover Dam was formally dedicated Thursday morning.
Top officials including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dedicated the bridge, which soars across the Colorado River uniting Arizona and Nevada and will be the key part of a new, faster route between Phoenix and Las Vegas. It is the Western Hemisphere's longest single-span concrete arch bridge and one of the tallest in the world, officials said.
The 1,900-foot bridge, which is 890 feet tall, is part of a $240-million four-lane bypass that will shift traffic away from the two-lane U.S. 93 across the Hoover Dam. It is about 1,500 feet south of the Hoover Dam and crosses over Black Canyon.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorities banned commercial trucks from crossing the Hoover Dam, forcing a 75-mile detour. The new bypass is designed to provide a shorter commercial route and unclog the delays caused by security checkpoints at the dam.
"This majestic bridge is the longest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere," LaHood said. "It rests on the tallest precast concrete columns ever constructed. And it reaffirms a powerful idea: Americans can still build great things not just in spite of enormous economic challenge, but as the means of overcoming it."
Planning for the bypass, about 40 miles east of Las Vegas, began in the late 1980s, though construction didn’t begin until 2002. It is scheduled to open to traffic next week, according to the federal Department of Transportation, which praised the more than 1,200 people who worked on the project, made more complicated by desert heat and high winds.
The bridge is named for former Nevada Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, who was decorated in the Korean War, and Pat Tillman, the former football player who left the Arizona Cardinals to become an Army Ranger after 9/11. Originally, the Army said Tillman had been killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan but, under pressure, finally ended its cover-up and acknowledged that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.
In his comments, LaHood praised the Obama administration's efforts to create construction jobs and to push for new infrastructure.
"This breathtaking dam and beautiful new bridge also demonstrate a larger point. Daring projects don't just solve today's problems; they support tomorrow's possibility," LaHood said. "In America's first century, we carved the Erie Canal and connected the coasts with the transcontinental railroad. In our second century, we built our interstate highways and the bridges, tunnels and subways that are still the lifelines of our economy. Each succeeding American generation has had the foresight and courage to invest in the Hoover Dam of its time -- the projects that make America the greatest country in the world, the projects that make America possible.
"This bridge above us -- this monument to America's can-do spirit -- reminds us that it's not too late for our generation to pass on a more perfect union to our kids and grandkids," he said. "We can still dream big. We can roll up our sleeves and make this nation’s infrastructure the envy of the world once again."