New River Gorge Bridge

Fayetteville West Virginia Is Home To The New River Gorge Bridge

Very few of the famous gorges around the world, have anything as spectacular as this bridge crossing them.

So dramatic is its appearance that it has been thought worthy enough to have its image on a 25 cent coin. This was issued in West Virginia during 2005.

The Incredible New River Gorge Bridge Seen From Below

Stamp Depicting The Bridge

But its fame doesn`t stop there. From the 11th April 2011 it will also be pictured on a "U.S. Priority Mail" stamp.

The bridge crosses the gorge of The New River just a little way north east of the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, USA.

Before construction began on the bridge many types of design were considered, including a "continuous truss." This was interesting as it would have had a 500 foot high pier which would have been the tallest in the U.S.

However the finest design was chosen and it led to the longest and highest arch bridge in the world being built. 

The designers were the engineering firm of Michael Baker Jnr. and their chief Engineer was Clarence V. Knudson. The famed "American Bridge Company" undertook the construction.

Before building began the builders had to ensure the foundations for the massive arch would remain stable. This was a worry as on both sides of the gorge there were abandoned coal mining shafts. These were filled in using a sand and gravel grout mixture.

U.S.Highway 19 Crossing The Bridge (Photo By Rhett Sutphin)

Construction on the New River Gorge Bridge began in June 1974.

It was built simultaneously from both ends. As the arch took shape it was held in place by a temporary tieback support system that involved the use of miles of steel cable. 

Cables had also been stretched across the gorge above the new bridge construction and lengths of metal for the bridge were moved out over the abyss using a pulley system.

Twin 330 foot high towers on each rim of the gorge supported the cables.

An important factor in building any bridge is the weather. 

Bad weather can interrupt tight schedules and delay completion. Although erecting a steel construction is an all year round job, extremes of weather can cause problems. Especially changes in temperature.

Everyone knows metal contracts and expands with changes in temperature. In the gorge it can be ten degrees Fahrenheit below freezing.

When it is this cold the top of the arch of the bridge is ten and a half inches lower than when temperatures in the gorge are sixty degrees Fahrenheit.

Quite a change!

The Bridge On A Sunny Day (Photo By Bobistraveling)

Construction was completed on October 22nd 1977 and at that time it was the highest and longest arch bridge in the world.

The main span measures 1,700 feet (518 metres) and the road deck is 876 feet (267 metres) above the New River.

It remained a record breaking bridge until 2001 when a series of bridges in China surpassed its dimensions.

An interesting feature in the construction of the New River Gorge Bridge was the use of a special type of steel called COR-TEN.
It develops a protective coating of rust that, rather than damaging the metalwork, protects it. The steel`s russet color blends in well with the natural terrain.

Another feature of this rust coating means that the bridge does not have to be repainted periodically.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation estimate that there is a cost saving of one million dollars for every time the bridge should normally have to be painted.

The New River Gorge Bridge carries U.S. 19 Highway over the gorge and an estimated 17,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge.
The cost of the bridge was $37 million and that was $4 million over budget

Before the bridge was built there was a much smaller bridge over the New River. It was situated just above the water at the base of the gorge. Drivers would have to wind their way down one side over the small bridge and then up the other side of the gorge.

Locals like to say that the journey time for the crossing has now gone from forty five minute to forty five seconds!

The New River Gorge Bridge is unique in having a celebration day in its honour purely for the fact that it such a high bridge. Every year on the third weekend in October The Fayetteville West Virginia Chamber of Commerce hold a Bridge Day.

The bridge is closed to all vehicular traffic and events take place with the bridge as the centrepiece. These events include rapelling and BASE jumping. This draws crowds of over 80,000 people and is a great tourist attraction for West Virginia.

The bridge lies within the New River Gorge National River Area which is run by the National Parks Service. They operate a visitor centre at the northern end of the bridge. There are some scenic lookouts and a wooden stairway from the centre goes partway down the gorge. 

The Catwalk Under The Bridge

Under the bridge is a catwalk used for inspection purposes.

For a fee visitors are allowed to walk out along it. Don`t worry you are well strapped into a safety harness! 

At the bridge dedication on October 1977, Mayor J. Walter Brown of the nearby town of Oak Hill read a telegram sent by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd calling the New River Gorge Bridge "A monument to American engineering genius and construction skills."