POINT PLEASANT, W Va. – On the 52nd anniversary of its tragic collapse on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge was recognized today as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This collapse sparked a breakthrough in standardized in-depth bridge inspection procedures when Congress established the National Bridge Inspections Standards (NBIS) with the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968. The landmark was recognized at a ceremony near the location where the bridge once stood, attended by members of the City of Point Pleasant, including Mayor Brian Billings; Jimmy Wriston, West Virginia Department of Highways Deputy Secretary of Transportation; the Ohio Department of Transportation and civil engineering leaders.
ASCE represents more than 150,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide. It is the oldest national engineering society in the United States. ASCE recognizes historically significant civil engineering projects, structures, and sites all over the world. More than 200 projects have earned the prestigious title for creativity and innovation, and almost all are executed under challenging conditions.
The Silver Bridge, a suspension bridge that connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia to Gallipolis, Ohio over the Ohio River, was first made available for traffic in May 1928 and was named for the color of its aluminum paint. Its eventual collapse came as a shock to the neighboring communities, as it did not exhibit signs of failure prior to the event. At the time of the collapse, 38 vehicles were on the bridge – 24 fell into the river below, seven fell onto the riverbanks and seven were situated on part of the bridge that did not collapse. Of the 64 people who fell from the bridge, there were 46 fatalities. The investigation into the cause of failure revealed that an eyebar had fractured due to stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue.
The Silver Bridge greatly altered the approach to bridge safety inspection on the national level. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 initiated the first national bridge safety program in the United States as a direct result of this collapse, and the legislation directed the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to establish the NBIS for all bridges in the Federal-Aid Highway System to abide.
“The structures we design as civil engineers have lasting impacts on the communities they serve,” said Kancheepuram “Guna” Gunalan, Ph.D., PE, D.GE, F.ASCE, President, American Society of Civil Engineers. “In the case of the Silver Bridge’s devastating collapse, numerous families were impacted by the tragedy, losing their loved ones. But in the years to follow, the inspection standards established as a result of this tragedy may have saved thousands of lives and the impact of this tragic event has been felt on a national level.”
The Silver Bridge also provided important lessons on fatigue and failure modes in similar structures, helping engineers improve their understanding of how these events occur. The bridge’s failure has helped improve bridge safety and methods for construction and repair in future structures, in addition to the resulting NBIS.
“These [NBIS] now assure that each one of our nation’s public highways bridges undergo a standardized in-depth bridge safety inspection at rigidly-mandated intervals, which has resulted in much safer highway system for our citizens to travel upon,” said Mayor Brian Billings.
“NBIS has helped ensure that well-trained staff are performing standardized inspection practices that hold paramount public safety,” said Robert Cagle III, P.E., ASCE Region 4 Director. “It is undoubtable that countless lives have been spared over the years because structural issues were able to be found and corrected during regularly scheduled bridge safety inspections.”
The Silver Bridge was nominated by the ASCE West Virginia Section to the ASCE History and Heritage Committee in 2018. Other Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks in West Virginia include the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad & Shop Complex and the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
For more information about ASCE’s Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Program, go to ASCE.org/landmark-program.
ABOUT THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS
Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America’s oldest national engineering society. ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation’s infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and improve engineering knowledge and competency. For more information, visit www.asce.org or www.