Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thank You, Mike O'Callaghan and Pat Tillman

i was a part of history last week.

Others have documented it more accurately, dramatically, eloquently, and beautifully than i.
The project website is here:

Search "O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge" at

or "Hoover Dam Bypass" at

My journey began in 1998. i interviewed in Phoenix for the job i took as a design engineer in the South. In Phoenix, i met with a very passionate man that had the conviction, enthusiasm, belief, and willpower that this firm, our firm, would lead the project in the shadows of one of the Seven Civil Engineering Wonders of the World.

For three years, i watched the positioning, the politics, and marketing that was completely foreign to me. Sometime during that three years, i became a part of the pursuit for the Hoover Dam Bypass Project.

i took a back seat, yet was honored to be consider a part of this team. i bought two suits for the interview in Denver, where all i did was sit in one of the two rows of twenty and stand at the appropriate time. i was part of the Hoover Support Team, or HST, which craftily was the acronym for the three lead design firms: HDR Engineering, Sverdrup Civil, and TY Lin International. Sverdrup got bought out by Jacobs, but that was after the project was awarded.

i remember spending Mother's Day in the office, grinding design alternatives into earthwork and fighting with a crude aerial photo to come up with something of presentation quality for a second interview. Within days, the HST was selected.
i emailed el Jefe': We won Hoover.
His reply: Holy Shit.

That second week of September, 2001, was spent in GEOPAK training, the roadway design software program of choice of our client, FHWA Central Federal Lands Division. i woke up Tuesday morning to CNN, watching in utter surreal confusion after the first plane hit the Twin Towers. i saw the second impact on television, and then i went to training. We looked to the skies at every break, wondering when this act of terrorism would reach Pacific time zone.

We tried to stay focused. We tried to limit emails and news searches. Our trainer suggested restaurants for lunch where we could watch television (i have a very vivid memory of Chili's, following the disjointed path of Air Force One around the country). Only a couple of us, maybe two, were locals to the South, so travel arrangements for the remainder of our class were chaotic in an effort to get them home by auto.

i lead the development of alternatives on the Nevada side (aka Nevada Approach, starting at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino, and spanning all the way through the Hoover Dam Bridge, or Colorado River Crossing, into Arizona). We assembled a team of engineers and designers from Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Nevada and Texas who were skilled in the software of choice. This team worked day and night, in the South and remotely, to design and display over twenty alternatives. Again, i have a vivid memory of pulling an all-nighter, going home to change my clothes (no time for a shower), to run straight to the airport to fly with my boss and our client to a meeting with Nevada DOT in Carson City to present our alternatives. The only thing that kept me awake on the plane was the company and the turbulence. Somehow i ended up driving the rental car the roughly 30 miles from Carson to Reno Tahoe International Airport, and the only portion of that trip i recall is almost missing the airport exit. Frightening. That also may have been the same trip my cigar cutter was confiscated by security, but that is another story.

i was supposed to be the Nevada Approach Delivery Manager. Somewhere along the line i was demoted? reassigned? Whatever the term, i became a pariah within my office. Lines were drawn, sides were taken, yet i continued. i ended up solely responsible for Volume II of the Nevada Approach, which consisted of over 300 sheets of cross sections. i was also intimately involved in each project's Special Provisions, including the Arizona Approach, the Nevada Approach, and the roadway portions of the Colorado River Bridge.

i had back surgery in November 2003.
i had a baby, Punkin, in January 2005.
i had another baby, Peanut, in May 2007.
And i moved North in July 2007.

i believe it is safe to say i have worked on this project in some way, shape, or form, for over nine years.

Some tasks were large and all consuming: alternative development, earthwork, cross sections, digital terrain model development when blasting had gone awry, drainage and incorporating cross roads and trails and the pedestrian plaza. Some tasks were small: coordinating guardrail post locations with the Colorado River Bridge Abutment 1; accommodating drainage at the sidewalk termination in Arizona, generating contours for an independent superelevation transition on the Colorado River Bridge sidewalk, and determining profile implications due to camber at Day 0 (opening) versus Day 3,000 (ten years later).

i was invited to participate in the Dedication ceremony on October 14th. One of 300 engineers and 1,200 trade workers and craftsmen, and all of their families. Paw Paw, el Jefe', Punkin, and Peanut accompanied me. Paw Paw still calls it "Mommy's Bridge". i got to share the fruits of my labor over the past nine years with my family. Tiny insignificant elements of the bridge that i am proud of. The double-decker bus drove the entire bypass alignment, from the Hacienda Hotel and Casino to the Arizona Interchange. Major roadway design, through extremely challenging, virgin terrain that i am proud of.

As i walked across that 1,900 ft bridge on Thursday, i met friends and colleagues and coworkers that respect me. Wow, that's all i have to say about that. Wow. (reference to Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse.) i stood among a thousand or so 900 ft above Hoover Dam. Wow. i went to an HST celebration that night at the Stardust Suite on the 21st floor of the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Wow. The friends and colleagues and coworkers that respect me, that i did not see at the Dedication Ceremony, were in attendance. Drinks. Hugs. Respect. i cannot describe the joy, fulfillment, pride, and happiness that i felt. Wow. And it felt good.

i volunteered on Saturday for the public celebration. 14, 15, or 16,000 people were expected to attend. i spent a couple hours in the Kids Zone, applying Bridging America temporary tattoos to young and old alike. To see the awe and enthusiasm from the fruits of my labors? Indescribable.

Mike O'Callaghan and Pat Tillman died in 2004. In very separate and distinct ways, they served our States, and our Country, with courage, humility, and sacrifice. To participate in a celebration in their honor, and to share this journey with a wonderful, talented, World Class group just downstream of Hoover Dam, is the experience of a lifetime for this Civil Engineer.