The New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County is one of West Virginia’s best-known landmarks. It is the third-highest bridge (876 feet above the riverbed) in the United States, and until 2003 it had the world’s longest single-arch steel span.
In June 1974, the first steel was positioned over the gorge by trolleys operating on 3,500-foot cables strung between 330-foot towers on each side of the gorge. The arch and deck of the bridge were constructed as a truss. The arch was designed to support most of the gravity load, and hanging beams connecting the deck to the arch below were built to carry lateral loads. Design work was done by the engineering firm of Michael Baker Jr., Inc., and the bridge was built by the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel. Construction took more than three years. The bridge opened to traffic on October 22, 1977.
The $37 million project completed the last link of Appalachian Corridor L (U.S. 19), reducing to one minute the driving time across the New River Gorge, which previously had taken about 40 minutes, and providing a popular shortcut between Interstate 79 near Sutton and the West Virginia Turnpike north of Beckley. From 1979 to 1994, traffic along the shortened route nearly quadrupled to more than 10,000 cars and trucks daily, and was projected to double again to more than 20,000 vehicles daily by 2014.
The length of the New River Gorge Bridge is 3,030 feet, and the arch length is 1,700 feet. The width of the deck is 69 feet, four inches. The bridge weighs 88 million pounds (44,000 tons), including 44 million pounds of steel. The arch alone weighs more than 21 million pounds. A special steel, designed to rust to a durable, attractive finish, was used to avoid the need for repainting.
Annually, on the third Saturday of October since 1980, the bridge has been closed for Bridge Day, West Virginia’s largest one-day festival. Pedestrians are permitted on the bridge on Bridge Day, and rappellers and even parachutists from around the world come to test their skills. The National Park Service operates Canyon Rim Visitor Center just north of the bridge on U.S. 19, introducing tourists to the New River Gorge National River and offering a fine view of the soaring structure.
This Article was written by Larry Sonis
Last Revised on February 27, 2013