A short stretch of Interstate 15 looked like a scene out of a science-fiction movie late Monday.
A freeway that accommodates roughly 133,000 vehicles a day was void of traffic, with commuters and tourists diverted to Las Vegas Boulevard.
In the dead of night, massive pieces of equipment approached the Warm Springs Road bridge in a formation that resembled an offense setting up against the defense with the 40-plus-year-old span the line of scrimmage.
Then the attack began.
It was not spectacular Las Vegas-style demolition. Instead hydraulic hammers methodically pounded away at the façade, sending concrete and rebar tumbling onto a foot-and-a-half-thick bed of crumbled asphalt that protected the freeway surface.
More than an hour into the operation, pulverizers — machines that resemble dinosaurs — relieved the hammers and gnawed away at the old road.
Down went 800 yards of concrete and 100 tons of steel, quickly creating a mountain of junk on what is typically the state’s busiest freeway.
Nobody seems quite sure exactly when the Warm Springs Road bridge was built. Corey Newcome, a project manager with Las Vegas Paving, watched his crews destroy the span and wondered what its purpose was four decades ago.
It wasn’t until a decade or so ago that development accompanying population spread far enough south to warrant a bridge over Interstate 15. The Warm Springs bridge became a heavily traveled and necessary east-west corridor that linked older ranch-style homes to businesses to the east.
The Nevada Department of Transportation made it a priority to finish the new Sunset Road bridge before taking down Warm Springs, which will be replaced with a four-lane structure .
But the Sunset alternative didn’t appease all residents.
“It’s going to be a bitch,” Peter Sarles, who watched the destruction of the bridge Monday night.
Sarles, who lives three blocks west of the Warm Springs span, said the Sunset Road bridge is not convenient. Traveling east, one lane crosses Las Vegas Boulevard while two lanes turn left and right. Sarles said traffic is so backed up that he typically has to wait through two or three lights to get through the intersection.
Now he has to wait a year for the Warm Springs bridge to be built.
Taking down the structure was no easy task. In eight hours, crews had to bring down the bridge and clean up the freeway so that it could reopen to traffic by 5 a.m.
Newcome held the undated blueprints for the original bridge and estimated it was constructed in 1963. Engineering was different back then and that dictated how it would be torn down, he said.
The new bridge is part of the $250 million Interstate 15 design-build south project, which includes widening the freeway, adding frontage roads on each side of the interstate and improving major interchanges at Blue Diamond and Russell roads. It is expected to be completed early next year.