50 Years Ago, Construction Began on the New River Gorge Bridge

In 1974, it took 40 minutes to drive across the New River from Fayetteville, West Virginia to Lansing, West Virginia—where the Canyon Rim Visitor Center for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve sits today. Now, thanks to the New River Gorge Bridge, that crossing only takes seconds.

The Michael Baker Company engineers who designed the New River Gorge Bridge faced the monumental task of building a structure that would stretch 3030 feet across a chasm that was 876 feet above steep topography and the New River. The bridge would have to support its weight, as well as the weight of any potential travelers, and the forces of nature. The Michael Baker Company and U.S. Steel’s American Bridge Division took these challenges head-on and created what is still considered an engineering wonder.

Photo from the National Park Service

American Bridge began construction of the New River Gorge Bridge in June of 1974. To begin the project, the company built a four-tower, dual cableway crane system to carry bridge components across the gorge that weighed nearly 100 tons. After constructing support structures like the piers at the bridge’s base within the gorge, workers placed arches on both the north and south sides of the bridge and conjoined them in the middle. Then, the work crews added the other steel components. All of the steel on the bridge is COR-TEN steel, which has a rusty look to minimize maintenance and avoid the need for repainting.

Photo from the National Park Service

Once completed in October of 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was made of more than 22,000 tons of steel, and 22,000 tons of concrete, and cost $37,000,000. In 1977, the National Society of Professional Engineers recognized the bridge as one of the Ten Outstanding Engineering Achievements in the United States. The New River Gorge Bridge is the world’s fourth-longest arch bridge and the longest single-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1980, people have came from all over the world to walk the bridge, rappel from the catwalk and base jump off the New River Gorge Bridge in an annual celebration called Bridge Day. Bridge Day is the largest one day festival in the state of West Virginia and 2024 is the 45th anniversary of the first celebration!

sources:

American Bridge, Featured Projects, New River Gorge. https://www.americanbridge.net/featured-projects/new-river-gorge/.

Bridge Walk, New River Gorge Bridge History. https://bridgewalk.com/history-of-the-bridge/

Michael Baker International, Projects, New River Gorge Bridge. https://mbakerintl.com/en/project/new-river-gorge-bridge/.

Department of the Interior, National Park Service: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, New River Gorge Bridge, Plan Your Visit. https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/nrgbridge.htm