A $14 million bridge at the fringes of the Grand Canyon was dedicated Thursday with Indian prayers, an antique-car procession and a bucket of Colorado River water.
The new Navajo Bridge, adjacent to the original structure built in 1929, drew hundreds of people who peered over the edge to behold Marble Canyon, a gorge about 15 miles southwest of this town near the Arizona-Utah border."This engineering feat remains as impressive as it was back then," said Gov. Fife Symington, who lavished praise on members of the state Department of Transportation, the Navajo Nation and other groups involved in the 9-year project.
"We're now going to christen the bridge for the second time in history," he said before splashing a bucket of river water onto the pavement.
About a dozen cars from the 1920s paraded across the bridge, which carries U.S. Highway 89A over the 470-foot-deep chasm that separates the Navajo Nation and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
"We hope the bridge will serve as some kind of communication between the state and the nation," said Officer Anthony Tso of the Navajo Police.
Audra Etsitty, reigning Miss Navajo Nation, said the original bridge embodies the strength of Navajo elders while the new structure symbolizes the younger generation.
"This bridge represents youth," Etsitty said. "It will learn and see many things and with the help of the first bridge, it will also be as strong as our elderlies."
Former Hopi tribal chairman Ivan Sidney joined a group of Navajo Nation members who marched across the new bridge and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
His participation was lauded by Thomas Etsitty, Navajo Nation's vice president.
"I hope this indicates that we are willing to live together," he said.
The Navajo Nation paid tribute to Lewis Nez, a trading post worker who drowned with two other men in 1928 at the historic Lee's Ferry crossing. The drowning marked the end of the ferry service, which was rendered obsolete by the original Navajo Bridge.
Thursday's festivities evoked memories for some who had attended the dedication of the original bridge in 1929.
"The cars were jammed up bumper to bumper on the bridge," said James Ashcroft, 74, who runs a trading post on the Navajo reservation. "I was afraid to death that the bridge was going to fall in."
Increasing traffic and trucks carrying heavier loads prompted state highway officials to erect the new, wider bridge, which was designed to resemble the original steel-and-concrete span, said Robert Johnson, an ADOT spokesman.
The new bridge, which was 98 percent funded by the Federal Highway Administration, had been open to traffic periodically during the summer, he said. The original bridge is now a pedestrian crossing.