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The New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County is one of West Virginia’s best-known landmarks. At 876 feet above the riverbed, the bridge is the third-highest in the United States. Until 2003 it had the world’s longest single-arch steel span.

Local residents had long recognized the need for improved transportation in the New River Gorge area. Until the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed, traveling from one side of the gorge to the other took 45 minutes or more. The establishment of Appalachian Development Highway System, a program of the Appalachian Regional Commission, made the New River Gorge Bridge project possible. In 1967, the West Virginia Road Commission hired the engineering firm Michal Baker Jr., Inc. to design an 11-mile section of Appalachian Corridor L, including a bridge to span the gorge. Engineers considered three different bridge designs before selecting the steel arch design.

Construction began in the summer of 1973. 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. The bridge was built by the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel. Construction took more than three years.

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.

About 30,000 people turned out for the dedication of the bridge on October 22, 1977. The $37 million project completed the last link of Corridor L (U.S. 19), reducing to one minute the driving time across the New River Gorge 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. By 2009, nearly 26,000 vehicles crossed the bridge each day.

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 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 1and offering a fine view of the soaring structure. Since 2010, special tours have allowed visitors to walk the catwalk under the deck of the bridge while secured by safety cables.

In 2005, West Virginia residents voted to have an image of the New River Gorge Bridge on the state quarter, and in 2011, the bridge was featured on a U.S. Postal Service stamp. On August 14, 2013, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its achievements in engineering and for its contributions to transportation.

Read the National Register nomination.

 

e-WV presents West Virginia Public Broadcasting on the New River Gorge Bridge

 

This Article was written by Larry Sonis

Last Revised on May 19, 2016


Cite This Article

Sonis, Larry "New River Gorge Bridge." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 19 May 2016. Web. 22 October 2017.

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