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Heavily Deteriorated Ohio River Bridge is Demolished

Thu February 23, 2012 - Northeast Edition
Tracy Carbasho

A bridge that served Ohio and West Virginia for more than eight decades was demolished in February after being closed to traffic for three years.

The Ohio Department of Transportation announced in early 2009 that the Fort Steuben Bridge would be demolished as a result of what engineers called “significantly deteriorating changes in the floor condition.” The discovery was made by a team of inspectors from ODOT’s New Philadelphia and Columbus offices after a slight dip in the floor was noticed during an earlier routine maintenance procedure.

The 1,584-ft. (483 m) bridge, which was constructed in 1928, traverses the Ohio River between Steubenville, Ohio, and Weirton, W.Va. After being deemed structurally deficient and functionally obsolete, the span was scheduled to be removed in fall 2009.

However, coordinating such an extensive $2.3 million project between the various governmental and regulatory agencies in both states took longer than expected and delayed the work. The demolition project, being done by Joseph B. Fay Co. of Russellton, Pa., eventually got under way in January of this year with the removal of the bridge deck and every other part that was accessible by land.

Becky Giauque, public information officer of District 11 of ODOT, said the detonation was done by Controlled Demolition Inc., a specialty explosives subcontractor from Phoenix, Md.

“CDI’s segmentation of the steel trusses, suspension cables, and main towers allowed for a more efficient, time-saving and safer demolition operation compared to conventional methods,” she said. “The basic premise of explosives operation is to isolate the key structural members of the bridge and cut them with linear-shaped charges to safely segment and drop the bridge to the surface below.

“The explosive charges placed on the CDI-selected chords, diagonals, suspension cables and towers totaled 136 cut points and were detonated commencing on the Ohio end of the bridge and progressing to the West Virginia end,” added Giauque. “Sequential detonation was achieved with the use of internal-delay, non-electric blasting caps. The use of delayed blasting caps will reduce any vibration or air blast generated by the detonation. The bridge collapsed four to five seconds after initiation of the detonators.”

CDI employs a team of experts with backgrounds in varying fields, including traditional demolition, removal, explosives, engineering, remediation, and materials handling. The company used the following types and approximate quantities of explosives to demolish the Fort Steuben:

• Copper-clad, linear-shaped charges (900, 1,200, 2,000 and 4,000 grains per foot), which were manufactured by Accurate Energetic Systems of McEwen, Tenn., were used as the primary steel-cutting charge. The net weight of these explosives in shaped charges was approximately 130 pounds.

• Dyno Nobel non-electric detonators with various delays were used to start the explosive charges. The use of delayed initiators permitted the subcontractor to keep the maximum weight of explosives per delay to less than 21.5 pounds, thereby reducing concussion generated by the blasting. The net weight of the detonators was less than one pound.

• Dyno Nobel detonating cord of 18 grains per foot was used for non-electric cap detonation. The net weight of the explosives was less than 13 pounds.

• P3 Boosters, manufactured by Accurate Energetic Systems, were used as direct initiators for shaped charges. The net weight of the explosives was less than one pound.

• Electric blasting caps were used to start the non-electric detonation system. The net weight of the explosives was less than one pound.

Although the bridge was brought down in February, Giauque said the overall project will not be completed until the end of July. The additional tasks will include removing pier columns and abutments, installing a barrier wall, grading and seeding, removing signage, completing roadwork, and doing drainage work.

Local motorists have been using the Veterans Memorial Bridge, which is just a half mile away, for easy access between Ohio and West Virginia since the Fort Steuben was first closed. Much of the traffic was diverted from the older bridge when the Veterans Memorial opened in 1990.

The cable-stayed, concrete-and-steel Veterans Memorial Bridge, which had been in the planning and development stages for nearly three decades, was always intended to be a replacement for the Fort Steuben.

Much of the truck traffic that once used the dangerously narrow Fort Steuben had started to use the newer bridge after it opened. Limits had been placed on the older span back in 2006, prohibiting its use by all truck traffic. Previous weight limits were also imposed.

Officials with ODOT expressed concerns about the Fort Steuben as far back as the 1990s, citing the narrow width of the deck, which measured just slightly more than 20 ft. (6 m). The bridge enjoyed quite a history in the area, however, by serving as a main artery of U.S. 22 to transport approximately 20,000 vehicles per day over the Ohio River back in the 1960s.

Although renovations were made throughout the years, officials with ODOT could not justify the expense that would have been required to bring the structure up to code with current safety standards. The justification was even harder to acknowledge knowing that a replacement bridge has been operating nearby since 1990. CEG

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