Utah company plays big role in Hoover Dam Bridge

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HOOVER DAM -- 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.

Ask Chris Lau about the new Hoover Dam Bridge, and don't be surprised if he starts to smile. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that's for sure," he says.

Lau is the chief engineer for OlsenBeal, a company based in Lindon.

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," says 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 he was about to sign up for.

"When you looked across the canyon, you wondered how it would happen," laughs 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," says 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," says Gordon. "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," says Steve. "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," says Lau.

OlsenBeal was responsible for placing the concrete columns that hold the bridge into place and 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," says Steve.

Five years later, it's a proud sense of accomplishment for the little Utah company -- it helped build the big bridge known across the world.

"We're happy to be able to participate with the people there," says Gordon.

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com


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