Here are some good news and some bad news for the bridgehunter community and those who are familiar with local history. We will start out with some bad news. On Monday at 7:15am local time, the Fort Steuben Bridge was dropped into the Ohio River by a series of explosives. As can be seen in a video provided by a local TV station out of Wheeling, the implosion was controlled and started with the roadway and trusses, which was then followed by the cables and finally, the towers, which were decapitated and fell into the far ends of the Ohio River.
Links on the demolition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVNM8LFVzUE
The bridge, located approximately 70 kilometers west of Pittsburgh and 35 kilometers north of Wheeling, West Virginia, was one of the last suspension bridges of its kind in the USA. Built in 1923 by the Dravo Contracting Company of Pittsburgh, the bridge features a series of eyebar suspension cables, anchored at the piers located on both sides of the river, whose suspender (secondary vertical) cable supported the roadway that was reinforced with Warren pony trusses. Despite the extra support of the pony trusses, the tension on the cables (caused by the roadway) is far greater than with today’s suspension bridges because of the dead weight of the roadway. There are a handful of these bridges left in the country, a couple of which can be found nearby along the Ohio River with the Market Street Bridge in nearby Steubenville and the Newell Bridge, located 100 kilometers south of Youngstown, Ohio.
The Fort Steuben Bridge was closed in 2008, 18 years after the opening of the New Steubenville Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge which has come under scrutiny recently because of weakening cables and other problems identified in an inspection report conducted by the Departments of Transportation (DOT) in West Virginia and Ohio. Attempts to save the bridge to be reused as a bike trail that would have connected Washington, DC and Indianapolis was quashed by officials of the Ohio DOT, who wanted to keep cyclists and pedestrians off the newly constructed Ohio Hwy. 7 expressway running along the west side of the river. The strive to demolish the suspension bridge persisted despite opposition from locals and preservationists wanting the bridge saved and reused for recreational purposes. Finally on Monday 20 February, 2012, officials from both states got their wish as a piece of history that tied Weirton and Steubenville together came crashing down without any remorse. In one of the videos of the demolition, one of the Ohio DOT officials stated “When ODOT’s not out plowing snow or repairing the roads we also enjoy blowing up old bridges.” Already the remark has drawn fire from critics like Nathan Holth, who compared destroying historic bridges in Ohio and surrounding states to bridges being destroyed by bombs in Europe during World War II. Needless to say, the demolition has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many with fond memories of the bridge which will linger for a long time, even after the next four historic bridges along the Ohio River are destroyed in favor of progress.
The fortunate part about the Fort Steuben Bridge is at least a tiny portion of the bridge has been saved as memorabilia to be used as an education incentive to encourage students to learn how to preserve artifacts made of steel. During the visit with Holth and Luke Gordon in August 2010, I had an opportunity to examine the bridge further to see what (if anything) can be done to preserve the bridge. There were many sections in the truss superstructure that had rusted away to a point where one could punch a hole in the structure without breaking his knuckles and obtain a piece of history. A piece rusted steel shown here in the picture below shows how neglected the bridge was prior to its closure in 2008.
If bridges like the Fort Steuben were maintained and painted regularly, like it is the case with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, there would have been a chance that the new bridge would not have been built, wasting hundreds of dollars of the taxpayers’ money. Proper maintenance and rehabilitation would have cost a tenth of the amount needed to demolish and replace the bridge. Instead the DOTs decided to neglect that notion and moved in the name of progress, regardless of the opposition. There still would have been ways to save the structure had all parties involved decided to undertake this venture, which would have consisted of sandblasting the trusses and painted them, as it happened with the Market Street Bridge, which is open to traffic.
Still the need to exert power by using dynamite on the part of the DOTs was and is still strong. If statements like the one by the Ohio DOT persist, what would their reactions be like when a modern bridge, like the New Steubenville Bridge is slated for demolition? Would they take the same pleasure of demolishing a modern bridge as they would with a pre-1950 bridge? Perhaps not, but when the public finds out, changes in the way bridges are maintained will come forcing the state agencies to veer away from the ideal bridge- a 100 year old bridge that requires no maintenance- and embrace in bridge maintenance which may be expensive in the short term but cost effective in the long term. This applies to historic bridges, many of which are still in good shape and can last another 100 years if cared for properly.
While the Fort Steuben Bridge may be gone, its legacy will continue as the strive to save what is left of American History will continue with a goal of jumping ahead of progress and bringing it to a halt. This is the only way to force state agencies to look at alternatives to demolition and encourage people to learn about historic bridges and their ties to the development of the US regarding its industrialization, societal issues and the cultural perspective. While it may be interesting to read about them in books, as it will have to be the case with the Fort Steuben Bridge being gone, it is even more interesting to visit and cross the bridges, like the ones at Steubenville and Newell to learn more about the history from a close-up view. It is much better than having to collect pieces of history from a bridge that was demolished to keep in the bridge collection. That is what I’m doing with mine as it is sitting on my desk waiting to be reused for my next class.
Photos of the Ft. Steuben Bridge can be seen here.
1. Another preservationist and columnist, Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink (based in Vermont), recently wrote a column on how to photograph a historic bridge. This is a small guide for people interested in visiting and photographing these pieces of artwork that are dwindling in numbers. To access the article, please click on this link below:
2. Cable-stayed bridges are becoming more and more scrutinized because of supporting cables that are either wearing out more quickly than expected or in one case some that have snapped. The New Steubenville Bridge recently received bad reviews based on an inspection conducted by the two aforementioned DOTs, while a near disaster was averted on the Martin Olav Sabo Pedestrian Bridge south of Minneapolis, as two pairs of cables snapped, causing the Hiawatha rail line to suspend service and Hiawatha Avenue, a main artery connecting the largest city in Minnesota and Bloomington to be restricted. Reinforcements are being added to the bridge and an inspection is being conducted to determine the cause of the damage.