Ceremony marks start of construction of Hoover Dam bypass

The $234 million Hoover Dam bypass bridge project officially got under way during a ceremony Monday attended by Arizona's and Nevada's governors and federal officials.

The first stage of construction will be the removal of 12 towers and two transmission lines in the path of the bypass.

Dave Zanetell of the Federal Highway Administration said the bid would be advertised in three weeks for construction of the Arizona portion of the bypass from the top of the hill above Hoover Dam to the end of the bridge in the Arizona side of the Colorado River.

Bids for the Nevada side will be advertised after Jan.

1.

Construction will begin next summer, according to Zanetell, leader of the project management team.

Construction of the platform for the 2,000-foot steel and concrete bridge will begin next fall, according to current schedules.

Sen.

Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who was among federal lawmakers and officials at the ceremony, has pushed for speeded-up funding for construction because the Sept.

11, 2001, terrorist attacks increased security at Hoover Dam, where traffic is stopped at the checkpoints.

Truck traffic has been diverted through Bullhead City and Laughlin.

Officials said about 2,000 vehicles per day have made the 80-mile detour, costing the trucking industry about $30 million per year in fuel and other costs.

It is expected to end traffic delays along U.S.

Highway 93, the winding two-lane road that links Las Vegas and Phoenix.

An estimated 13,000 cars and trucks cross Hoover Dam daily.

Joining Kyl at the ceremony were Sen.

Harry Reid, D-Nev., Nevada's two House members and U.S.

Rep.

Don Young, R-Alaska, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Ariz.

Gov.

Jane Hull emphasized the dangerous conditions along the alternative route.

She also said the bypass would eliminate the major bottleneck on the Canamex Highway linking Mexico with Canada through Arizona and Nevada via Kingman.

To date, $119 million in state and federal funding for the project has been approved.

Another $105 million is needed.

Several members of Congress in key appropriations positions attended Monday's ceremony.

"The Department of Interior has identified Hoover Dam Bypass as their number one national security priority," Zanetell said.

Zanetell said the project schedule was reviewed to see whether the bridge and bypass roads could be completed sooner than 2007.

"It would take a major boost in funding to build it quicker," he said.

"A faster schedule is not cost effective."

Mary Peters, head of the Federal Highway Administration, said President Bush recognizes the security, safety, economic impact and prosperity the bypass would bring.

"Hoover Dam is a national treasure," said Peters, a former Arizona Department of Transportation director.

"The bypass will preserve and add to the engineering miracle that is Hoover Dam."

"We would like to get the money sooner rather than later," she said.

Zanetell said 280 professional and technical experts have worked on the planning and design.

Hoover Dam forms Lake Mead, the nation's largest man-made reservoir.

It also supplies electricity to a wide area of the Southwest.

Completed in 1935, the dam is one of southern Nevada's most popular attractions.

The first construction stage involves moving a set of 230,000-volt power lines and two electricity towers now leaning over the river where the bridge is to be built.

The move planned for next week will involve a temporary drop in power supply to nearby cities, but the Western Area Power Administration said customers won't notice a difference.

Information, pictures and updates are available on the web at www.hoverdambypass.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.