The Market Street Bridge in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia lights up the night sky with its array of blue and white lights. The lights were included as part of a $16.5 million refurbishment project that was completed in late 2011. Photo Courtesy
What began as the restoration of the Market Street Bridge in West Virginia has become another chapter in the structure’s significance as a landmark.
“It’s an old, but structurally sophisticated bridge,” said Gus Suwaid, construction engineer of District 6 of the West Virginia Department of Transportation. “This project included an aesthetic element that made it beautiful and I’ve been getting comments from people three and four counties away. It just added another landmark feature to the region.”
What makes the steel suspension bridge so striking at night is the array of white and blue lights that adorn it from end to end and top to bottom. The lights beckon motorists who have been forced to use the nearby Veterans Memorial Bridge while the Market Street structure has been closed for various periods of time since January 2010.
The bridge was closed during most of 2010 with the exception of a few weeks. It was reopened briefly from December 2010 until March 2011 when it was closed again for nine months.
The official reopening on Dec. 7, 2011, signaled the end of the $16.5 million project aimed at refurbishing the bridge, which crosses the Ohio River between Follansbee, W.Va., and Steubenville, Ohio. The 1,794-ft. (547 m) span, located in Brooke County in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, dates back to 1905 when it was built to carry streetcar and pedestrian traffic.
“The Market Street Bridge is a historic structure and was crucial to connecting the communities in West Virginia to Ohio — communities that had been kept divided by the Ohio River,” said West Virginia Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox during the reopening ceremony. “Because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Division of Highways was able to keep this historic structure in place by making the repairs necessary to extend its life, preserve its history for future generations, and keep those communities united.”
There had been discussions in 2008 about permanently closing the bridge and diverting traffic to the Veterans Memorial Bridge, a more modern structure that had been completed in 1990. However, elected officials on both sides of the river expressed concerns and the federal stimulus money provided the ideal means to support the necessary rehabilitation.
Suwaid said the purpose of the project was to maintain the serviceability of the bridge, which has a 5-ton (4.5 t) weight limit and to make it safer for motorists. The work included major retrofitting of the steel plates and members in the towers to enhance the structural integrity.
Ahern & Associates, a division of Kokosing Construction Inc. in South Charleston, W.Va., was awarded the contract. Burgess and Niple of Columbus, Ohio, served as the consultant. Suwaid said the successful completion of the project was the result of working with a competent contractor and consultant.
The repairs also included replacing beams in the gridded deck, adding 12 steel bars to support the steel members connecting the deck to the cables, and sandblasting and painting the entire structure. The painting process also was unique, marking the first time that such a method has been used on any bridge in the district. With this process, three coats of paint were applied simultaneously.
The bridge sports the colors blue and gold, the same as those worn by the West Virginia University Mountaineers football team. The project represented the second time the WVDOT gave the public an opportunity to vote for the color scheme.
The work was finished on schedule, according to Suwaid, but there were a few challenges along the way. The sandblasting that was done to prepare the structure for the application of paint caused a certain amount of damage to the bridge. As a result, these weakened sections had to be reinforced before the additional structural repairs and painting could be completed.
A change also was required in the anticipated repairs to the rocker posts that connect the towers to the deck. The original plans called for one of eight total posts to be retrofitted. Instead, one had to be retrofitted and three had to be replaced.
“Overall, there were no significant challenges and there were no major unanticipated repairs that were necessary,” said Suwaid. “We were pressed for time at the end of the project, but we were able to finish on schedule.”
Even while the Market Street structure was closed, motorists were able to use the Veterans Memorial Bridge, which also crosses from West Virginia to Ohio. The good news is that the two bridges are located just slightly more than one mile from each other.
Finding the Market Street Bridge is easier than ever at night now with its picturesque glow of lights. Suwaid said the $2.5 million electrical contract included the installation of the lights and other related work.
The structure is embellished with 3,200 linear ft. (975 m) of blue strip lights on the trusses. In addition, there are hundreds of other white lights, including 212 to brighten the pedestrian walkway, 140 necklace lights on the suspended cables, 56 floodlights on the towers and six typical navigational lights to alert river traffic of the bridge’s location.
While the bridge is attracting attention for its vivid color and decorative lights, the original structure also was ornate when it was constructed. Information provided by the WVDOT shows the original span featured massive ornamental finials with decorative cresting on top of the towers and on the portal bracing.
There is no definitive record to show when these original elements were removed. However, records do show that the top chord of the bridge failed in 1922 and was replaced. The original bridge was altered again at a later time when the entire main section of the stiffening truss was replaced. A major rehabilitation also was completed in 1981.
The Market Street Bridge is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places as a result of its role as an essential transportation link between West Virginia and Ohio. Although it was originally constructed to carry streetcars and pedestrian traffic, the bridge was converted to vehicular use once it was purchased in 1942 from the Steubenville Bridge Company by the West Virginia State Road Commission.
The commission paid $1.3 million to purchase the bridge and then invested an additional $400,000 over the next two years to complete the necessary renovations. Tolls were implemented with the expectation that the bridge would be paid for in 12 years. The tolls were removed in 1953.