If you think the new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge is impressive from the ground, wait until you fly over it. The twin-rib concrete arch structure is the largest of its kind in the US, and makes aerial tours to the area a "must-do" for Las Vegas travelers. The official name of the $ 114 million bypass is the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, and it's massively huge. Here are some quick facts:
1. The arch span is 1.060 feet long
2. The bridge is 1,900 feet long
3. The bridge deck / sidewalk are 900 feet above the Colorado River
Located 1,500 feet south of Hoover Dam, the bridge spans Black Canyon and serves as the connecting link between the Nevada and Arizona approach highways. The bypass also includes a sidewalk on the Nevada side where views of Hoover Dam are optimal. Other visitor facilities include a parking lot, trail, and interpretive plaza.
The Hoover Dam Bypass was built to increase driver safety, protect the dam, and relay traffic congestion. The original two-lane was steep and twisting and came with potential hazards to travelers and the dam itself. The road was also overwhelmed with traffic: Up to 15,000 trucks and cars crossed the dam each day. Those vehicles now use the bridge and the top of Hoover Dam is only open to pedestrians.
Las Vegas Hoover Dam tours are the most exciting way to experience the full scale of the bridge. Here's a quick list of the most popular trips:
1. Helicopter flights. En route, you will fly over Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US, and then enter Black Canyon, where you'll hover over the bridge and the dam. Flights use the EcoStar 130, a deluxe helicopter that features stadium-style seating, wraparound windshields, and Fenestron quiet-ride rotor technology. Includes hotel pick up and drop off. Total tour time is about three hours. Note: Helicopters fly at a lower altitude than planes.
2. Airplane. This tour follows the same route as the helicopter tour but continues on to Grand Canyon West, home of the Grand Canyon Skywalk. The return gives you another opportunity to see the bridge. Many flights use a fixed-wing Vistaliner aircraft (over-sized windows, taped tour narration, climate-controlled cabin). Includes free hotel shuttle service. Total tour time is 5.5 hours.
3. Bus tour with helicopter ride. Includes VIP Discovery Tour of the dam's interior, as well as access to the visitor's center, exhibit areas, movie room, observation deck, and generator room. Transfer to an EcoStar 130 helicopter for stellar views of the bridge and the dam. Includes hotel pick up / drop off. Total tour time 3.5 hours.
The new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, aka the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, is a sight to behold. Started in 2005 and completed in October 2010, the structure is already being revered as one of this century's elite engineering projects. Epic in scale, the bridge is best experienced from the air. Las Vegas has a number of excellent tour operators who offer superb helicopter, airplane, and bus-helicopter packages . But book online in advance: The bridge is Las Vegas' newest natural attraction and flights are selling out fast.