On December 15, 1967, during the five o'clock rush hour traffic, all three spans of the "Silver Bridge" collapsed into the icy Ohio River in less than a minute. This national tragedy would change bridge construction and inspections.
The two lane roadway sat 100 feet above the water and connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Kanauga, Ohio. Only five of fifty-one travelers atop the failing 1,750 foot span, were able to escape from the 37 submerged vehicles. Twenty two of the fatalities were Ohio residents.
The 40-year old bridge was the first of its kind in America. The exchange was suspended on heat-treated eye-bar steel chains, build by the West Virginia Ohio River Company. Named the "Silver Bridge", it was painted with aluminum paint, another first.
Analysis of the bridge wreckage indicated that a 0.1-inch defect in one of the metal "eye-bars" snapped just outside the Ohio-side tower. The collapse then toppled the West Virginia tower and pulled the rest of the bridge into the river.
Only the West Virginia approach and four piers remained standing. Vibrations from the rush hour traffic vehicles, including two gravel trucks and five tractor-trailer rigs, plus the weight of the bridge deck and poor bridge maintenance, led to the catastrophic failure.
President Lyndon Johnson immediately created a task force on bridge safety and Congress passed their recommendations as the "National Bridge Inspection Standards" of 1968. These safety standards applied to all 398,000 federal and state highway bridges.
In 1969, two years to the day of the collapse, the "Silver Memorial Bridge" was dedicated in memory of the forty-six people who lost their lives during the "Silver Bridge" Disaster. The Silver Memorial Bridge is still a vital infrastructure connection for southeast Ohio today.
August 29, 2019