It may be hard to imagine, but its been five years now since commercial truck traffic between Las Vegas and Phoenix rumbled through the Tri-State area because there were no other, shorter, alternatives to cross the Colorado River. It was this week in 2010, that detour came to an end with the official opening of the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
The crossing was decades in the planning and many professional engineers had thought the project was near impossible to complete. What was originally referred to as the ‘Colorado River Bridge Project,’ officially started in 1989. It wasn’t until 2001 that the Federal Highway Administration had settled on an alignment, south of Hoover Dam. Until then, several crossings were under consideration, including one much closer to Bullhead City and Laughlin.
It was the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that proved to be the catalyst to get the project moving. Fearing Hoover Dam might be targeted by terrorists, commercial truck traffic across the dam was halted on that fateful day and thus began an almost decade-long detour through Bullhead City and Laughlin.
Construction on the bypass started in 2003 and was delayed in 2006 after a windstorm caused extensive damage to some of the originally designed equipment that was being used to construct the bridge. Full-scale construction didn’t start again until 2008.
An elaborate grand opening ceremony was held on Oct. 14, 2010. While hundreds of invited guests, including the mayors and city council members of Bullhead City, Kingman and Lake Havasu City, watched the festivities from the bridge deck, other dignitaries and speakers were on Hoover Dam, looking south toward the new crossing.
Once the ceremony was over and the crowds became the first to drive over the new bridge, U.S. Highway 93 was officially taken off Hoover Dam and allowed to cross the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. Since then, motorists are no longer allowed to use the dam to cross over the river.
Hoover Dam can now only be accessed from the Nevada-side of the river, using the old Highway 93, which became State Route 172. Visitors can cross into Arizona over the dam, but there is no access to U.S. Highway 93 from the Arizona-side of the dam so visitors must return to Nevada to leave the dam.
The bridge is named after former Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan and former Arizona Cardinal and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman.