Dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge

Fayette Tribune
October 27, 1977

Pomp, Ceremony Mark Bridge's Dedication

by John D. Law

Dubbed the "eighth wonder of the world" by many, the New River Gorge Bridge was officially dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 22, amid pomp and political speeches the likes of which Fayette County may have never been seen.

Three former governors and the present governor were among the distinguished guests seated on the speakers's stand which rested approximately 100 feet from the north end of the 3,030 foot bridge. Former governors Hulett Smith, Okey L. Patteson and Arch Moore shared the speakers stand with Gov. Jay Rockefeller.

Also seated on the stand were U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph, Congressman Harley Staggers, members of the board of public works and a host of other state dignitaries.

Various local and state civic and political leaders occupied the approximately 100 chairs directly in front of the speaker's stand which was constructed to resemble the bridge being dedicated.

A crowd estimated at 40,000 jockeyed for position outside the crowded perimeter of the dignitaries' area.

The Rev. Billy Reed Wickline, pastor of the Fayetteville United Methodist Church, gave the invocation asking for divine guidance to "guard us from viewing this accomplishment as a tower of Babel."

Oak Hill Mayor J. Walter Brown was the master of ceremonies for the dedication services which began promptly at noon and lasted a scheduled one and a half hours.

In his welcoming speech, Fayetteville Mayor John L. Witt, Jr. noted that such a span across the New River Gorge was "hard for some of us to imagine a few years ago."

The bridge, according to the Fayetteville mayor, has made area progress" despite some who the mayor said are reluctant to welcome change."

He expressed appreciation for the new friends and neighbors" the bridge construction has brought to Fayetteville and praised the construction of the structure as a way to unite the county.

The bridge, Witt concluded, has "created a unity of purpose and an atmosphere of pride".

Mayor Brown read a telegram from U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd calling the bridge a "monument to American engineering genius and construction skills."

Officials from U.S. Steel, contractors for the bridge, and Michael Baker, Inc., architects for the structure, called the bridge a "blend of many remarkable talents" and a "dream brought into reality."

Roy Cruikshank, president of the Fayetteville Plateau Chamber of Commerce, cited the need for a park and an overlook on both sides of the New River Gorge Bridge and the "Need to do our utmost to protest the gorge for the feature."

He said the bridge would help to make the Fayetteville County area a better place in which to live.

Lester Lamm, executive director of the Federal Highways Administration, said the opening of the bridge represents the "culmination of 12 years of effort on the part of the state government and the federal government."

He called the bridge "more than a monument" and said its opening "closes a gap between Pittsburgh and Miami."

"West Virginians," said State Highways Commissioner Charles L. Miller, are "heirs to centuries of man's skills." He noted that construction of such a thing as the New River Gorge Bridge would have "never been accomplished without the freedom, vision, and support of all the citizens of West Virginia."

W.T. Brotherton, president of the West Virginia State Senate, said, "no remarks are as eloquent as the silence of the scene." He called the bridge's dedication a "fitting tribute to all West Virginians."j

House Speaker Don Kopp got in a plug for the Rockefeller administration by noting that the opening of the bridge is "one of many things to look forward to under the leadership of Gov. Rockefeller."

Congressman Harley Staggers called the crowd present for the dedication the "largest crowd to attend any public meeting in West Virginia."

Congressman Staggers praised Sen. Jennings Randolph for introducing the Appalachian Regional Development Act in the United States Senate. Revenue from this act funded a major portion of the construction costs of the bridge.

Sen. Jennings Randolph, the dean of the West Virginia delegation in the United States Congress, called the bridge's opening "a new day in the history, of West Virginia and the history of the people."

"Well-designed highways" according to the senator, "can promote economic growth and development throughout West Virginia."

Gov. Jay Rockefeller heard a cheering crowd when he said "great things happen when West Virginians and mountains meet." Rockefeller said a bridge such as the one dedicated has the potential of providing a "new lifeblood for West Virginia." He called for the necessary steps to be taken to "protect the beauty of nature" and told the crowd they are the "trustees of history."

The Rev. C. Shirley Donnelly gave the benediction.

The bridge the men dedicated is a major link in West Virginia's Appalachian Corridor L. expressway system and connects recently completed portions of U.S. Route 19 which provide area residents with direct access to Interstates 77 and 79 at Beckley and Sutton. It has 12-foot lanes in each direction with 7-foot 3-inch shoulders, breakdown lane, concrete medial barrier and a curb with tubular handrail.

Opening of the new span marked the final milestone in the construction timetable of the West Virginia Department of Highways' most ambitious bridge project. The bridge has enough concrete in its foundations and abutments to pave several miles of highway and the bridge's 22,000 tons of structural steel are equal to production of nearly 15,000 mid-size automobiles.

For American Bridge, tackling this project meant coping with an astonishing set of logistics. During site preparation four years ago, an array of heavy construction equipment and dozens of men cut and blasted through rock formations for the bridge approaches. In addition, the Foster and Creighton Company, Nashville, Tenn., filled portions of an abandoned mine shaft with a sand-gravel-grout mixture before completing the massive concrete abutments and foundations along the sides of the gorge.

Anchored to the concrete foundations are huge steel box columns which support the bridge's approach truss spans. Some of the columns are 400 feet high and were among the first sections of the bridge to be erected.

Because of the rugged terrain and the gorge's great depth, American Bridge used a "cableway system to construct the bridge. The unusual system used trolleys running on cables to move structural steel components to position over the canyon. Twin 330-foot-high towers on each rim supported the steel cables.

Designed by Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., Beaver, Pa., the deck truss and arch bridge has 23 truss spans ranging in length from 126 to 143 feet. Proving the main support for the highway structure is arch span.

The bridge was erected simultaneously from both ends and held in place by temporary tieback support systems involving miles of steel cable and pipe casing. Last year, bridge engineers using sixteen 1,250- ton capacity hydraulic jacks, deftly lowered and locked together both 850-foot arch sections. Because of the arch's incredible weight of 10,533 tons, this qualified as one of the "heaviest" arch span closings in the United States.

Following completion of the arch, ironworkers began erecting vertical columns on top of it to support the bridge's deck trusses. Completion of the trusses late last year marked the final steel erection phase of the bridge that has earned mention in the record books.

An elusive, yet important, factor in bridge building is the weather. Uncooperative weather can complicate even the most precise construction schedules. Although steel erection continues year-round, there are exceptions when it is too cold, wet, or windy for the ironworkers to work safely.

Weather, however, will continue to affect the New River Gorge Bridge. Steel expands and contracts with changes in temperature, and while the dimensional changes are very small percentage-wise, they become significant when large amounts of steel are involved. For example, when ambient temperature at the New River Gorge measures ten degrees below zero, the bridge will be ten-and-one half inches lower at its crown than with a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The majority of the structural steel for the project was produced at U.S. Steel's Homestead (Pa.) Works and fabricated at the American Bridge Division's Ambridge (Pa.) Plant. All of it is USS COR- TEN, a high-strength corrosion-resistant steel that oxidizes with age. The steel's russet color blends aesthetically with the natural terrain in this mountainous area of southwestern West Virginia.

Following the dedication, Gov. and Mrs. Rockefeller and Thomas Wood, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. B. Wood Jr. of Fayetteville, cut the ribbon to officially open the span.

Wood won the honor of cutting the ribbon with Rockefeller through a contest sponsored by The Charleston Daily Mail. Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Wood and Gov. and Mrs. Rockefeller led a procession of cars driven by dignitaries across the bridge.

Special music for the event was provided by Charlie McCoy, a Fayetteville native. Bands from Fayetteville High School, Mount Hope High School, Oak Hill High School, Midland Trail High School and Meadow Bridge High School provided music to entertain the crowd before the ceremony.