BOULDER CITY, Nev. — A public dedication was held Saturday morning for the new Hoover Dam Bridge, which is set to open this coming week.
The $240 million project took five years to complete, and a Utah County company played a big part in the process.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that's for sure," said Chris Lau, chief engineer for Lindon-based OlsenBeal. The company is known for building bridges and wind-turbine generators, but now that the new Hoover Dam project is finished, it might be best known as the company that had a major part in constructing the bridge.
"The Hoover Dam is an American icon, so to speak," said Steve Olsen, bridge manager for OlsenBeal, "The coolest part I remember is when we flew the first cable across the canyon with the helicopter. That was an adrenaline rush."
Steve's father, Gordon Olsen, is the president of OlsenBeal. He remembers when he first went to the Hoover Dam to look at the project for which he was about to sign the company up.
"When you looked across the canyon, you wondered how it would happen," said Gordon. "There was a learning curve for us to be able to do that, but it is overwhelming when you look at it then — and to then look at it today — to actually think that it was built."
Thousands of people gathered for the public dedication of the new bridge Saturday morning. Officially, it's called the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
O'Callaghan is a former Nevada governor who died in 2004. Tillman is the ASU/Arizona Cardinals football player turned Army Ranger, who died in Afghanistan in 2004.
It is the second-highest bridge in America, standing about 900 feet over the Colorado River. Only the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is higher.
"It's unreal. When you get on top of the cable-weigh towers, I think you're about 1,200-1,300 feet above the river," said Lau.
Construction on the bridge started in January of 2005. OlsenBeal got involved in the spring of 2005.
"Five years is a long time to get a bridge done," said Gordon Olsen. "We were involved with the reconstruction of I-15 before the Olympics. We erected all the bridges there, and that was a three-and-a-half year project. The Hoover Dam Bridge is only one bridge."
OlsenBeal is also building the new North Temple Bridge in Salt Lake City, and worked on all the pedestrian bridges in Las Vegas. But it's hard to find a project that makes them prouder than the Hoover Dam Bridge.
"I walked across the bridge several months ago when it was just being finalized," Steve Olsen said. "I remember just thinking, 'wow.'"
"That was a neat experience because it just meant the final, major obstacle in building that bridge was behind us," said Lau.6 comments on this story
OlsenBeal was responsible for placing the concrete columns that hold the bridge in place, as well as the metal girders where the road goes across. Using a cable-weigh system, crews would pick up the 50-ton, pre-cast concrete chunks and cable them across the canyon.
An operator working with a remote control would then lower them to workers below, who would fit them into place. "It was a long, drawn out process," said Steve Olsen.
Five years later, it's a proud sense of accomplishment for the small Utah company — it helped to build the big bridge known across the world.
"We're happy to be able to participate with the people there," said Gordon Olsen.