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Corrosion Closes Oldest Vehicle Bridge

Friday, March 8, 2013

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A snapped cable has forced the closure of the oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in use in the United States, West Virginia transportation officials said this week.

The 164-year-old Wheeling Suspension Bridge is closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic and won't reopen for at least three to four weeks while repairs are made to the busted cable, which was discovered during a routine inspection Saturday (March 2), according to WV Division of Highway officials.

Corrosion caused the cable to break, Dave Sada, DOH District 6 Bridge Engineer, told local reporters. The cable is not load bearing but keeps the bridge deck from swaying.

Historicbridges.org / Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is the oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in use in the U.S. The bridge was closed after a corroded cable broke.

Damage Inspected

Highway officials and a team from HDR Engineering in Pittsburgh met Monday (March 5) to inspect the damage.

According to the Highway Department, the cable snapped on the northeast, river-facing side of the bridge's tower. The cable is anchored to the other side of the tower and passes under two larger cables.

The bridge has a total of 12 iron cables—10 large and two small—suspended from its towers. In 1983, the cables were examined and determined to be in good condition; however, the cables were then rewrapped with a modern, elastomeric plastic, according to a history by the Ohio County Public Library.

Repair options include reattaching the cable to its original anchor point, running over the top of the larger cables instead of underneath, or anchoring it to the river-facing side of the tower, Sada has told news outlets.

However, it is too early to estimate a repair cost, Sada told The Herald-Star of Steubenville, OH.

State highway officials had already been planning to clean, paint, upgrade lighting, and make minor structural repairs to the span. That work will cost up to $8.2 million and is expected to start later this year, Sada told the newspaper.

U.S. Public Domain

Flooding in 1852 is shown in this picture of the bridge, which is a National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Bridge History

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge spans the main channel of the Ohio River at Wheeling, WV. The main span is 1,010 feet from tower to tower. The east tower rests on the Wheeling shore, and the west tower on Wheeling Island. Construction began in 1847 and was completed in 1849.

In 1854, a strong windstorm destroyed the bridge deck, after which it was rebuilt, followed by several years of improvements. The deck was completely rebuilt in 1956, and the road was widened from 16.25 feet to 20 feet.

The road and sidewalk were reconstructed with an open steel grating. In the 1980s, the West Virginia Division of HIghways restored the bridge.

The bridge is the oldest vehicular suspension bridge in the U.S. still in use and is listed as both a National Historic Landmark and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Historicbridges.org / Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Highway officials do not yet have a cost estimate for repairing the cable, which is not load-bearing. The bridge was built in 1849.

Built before most automobiles, the bridge was designed to carry the weight of a horse and buggy. It currently has a per-vehicle weight limit of 4,000 pounds. Traffic lights at either end limit the number of cars on the bridge at one time, and drivers are advised to keep at least 50 feet between vehicles.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Corrosion; Department of Transportation (DOT); Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance programs; Structural steel

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