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Wheeling bridge gets checkup at 166-year mark

 

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Shelley Hanson
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Shelley Hanson

WHEELING, W.Va. — Structural engineers are conducting a routine inspection of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge this week, making sure the 166-year-old span is in good condition.

To do the job, the engineers suspend themselves using ropes and a pulley system of sorts connected to the bridge. Their bright orange safety ropes stand out against the bridge’s time-worn red, white and blue painted cables and stone towers.

HDR of Weirton is conducting the work on behalf of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

On Monday afternoon, Tonya Freeborn, a structural engineer with HDR, said the Wheeling Suspension Bridge is one of the oldest bridges she has ever inspected.

“I was vying to be on this inspection,” Freeborn said. “It’s in pretty good shape.”

The inspectors are looking for signs of deterioration on the bridge’s stay cables, hangers and other parts.

The bridge has been in the news more frequently during the past couple years, as there have been two incidents involving stay cables.

In March 2013, a cable snapped because it was too rusty, while this past February frigid temperatures were blamed for an eyebolt connecting the cable to the bridge for failing.

Stay cables keep the bridge from swaying.

“We’re all professional engineers. Most of us have done design work,” Freeborn added.

She noted some of the engineers also have rock-climbing experience, but it is not necessary.

All the structural engineers are certified to do such inspections.

A major rehabilitation project on the bridge is expected to occur sometime in 2016.

The $8.25 million project is expected to last a year or more.

The first Wheeling Suspension Bridge was built in 1849, but a powerful storm in 1854 damaged it beyond repair leading to it being rebuilt in 1860 – just in time for the start of the Civil War in 1861.

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