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WV has highest rate of structurally deficient bridges; trails other states in recent progress

By Mike Tony, Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the deadliest bridge catastrophes in modern history struck in West Virginia on Dec. 15, 1967, when the 2,200-foot Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, amid rush-hour traffic, collapsed into the Ohio River.

The disaster, which killed 46 people, was triggered by a stress crack in one link of a chain of steel eyebars supporting the bridge from above.

The tragedy led to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, which established federal bridge inspection standards still in use.

“There’s not one single bridge engineer in the [Division] of Highways, not one, that doesn’t know that story, that doesn’t have that kind of memorabilia on their wall,” West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston told the Joint Legislative DOT Accountability Oversight Commission, at a Jan. 9 meeting of the panel of state lawmakers.

West Virginia’s bridge problem

However, more than 56 years since the Silver Bridge disaster, West Virginia still has a bridge problem.

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, after a powerless cargo ship rammed into it and killed two highways workers and left four others missing and presumed dead, has renewed scrutiny of the integrity of bridges in West Virginia and throughout the country.

In recent years, West Virginia has had the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the country. Last year, West Virginia ranked second in percentage of area covered by structurally deficient bridges.

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