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New River Gorge Bridge

Coordinates: 38°4.1′N 81°5.0′W / 38.0683°N 81.0833°W / 38.0683; -81.0833
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New River Gorge Bridge
Coordinates38°4.1′N 81°5.0′W / 38.0683°N 81.0833°W / 38.0683; -81.0833
Carries US 19
CrossesNew River, CR 82, CSX Transportation
LocaleFayette County, West Virginia, U.S.
Maintained byWest Virginia Division of Highways
Total length3,030 ft (924 m)
Width69.3 ft (21.1 m), 4 lanes with center divider
Height876 ft (267 m)
Longest span1,700 ft (518.2 m)
Clearance aboveDeck arch, unlimited clearance
Construction cost$37 million (equivalent to $145 million in 2023 dollars)
OpenedOctober 22, 1977
Daily traffic16,200 vehicles/day[1]
New River Gorge Bridge
New River Gorge Bridge is located in West Virginia
New River Gorge Bridge
NRHP reference No.13000603[2]
Added to NRHPAugust 14, 2013[3]

The New River Gorge Bridge is a steel arch bridge 3,030 feet (924 m) long over the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia, in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. With an arch 1,700 feet (518 m) long, the New River Gorge Bridge was the world's longest single-span arch bridge for 26 years;[4][5] it is now the fifth longest; the longest outside of China. Part of U.S. Route 19, its construction marked the completion of Corridor L of the Appalachian Development Highway System. An average of 16,200 motor vehicles cross the bridge each day.[1]

The roadway of the New River Gorge Bridge is 876 feet (267 m) above the New River,[5] making the bridge one of the highest vehicular bridges in the world; it is the third highest in the United States. When completed in 1977, it was the world's highest bridge carrying a regular roadway, a title it held until the 2001 opening of the Liuguanghe Bridge in China. Because of its height, the bridge has attracted daredevils since its construction. It is now the centerpiece of the annual "Bridge Day", during which hundreds of people, with appropriate equipment, are permitted to climb on or jump from the bridge. In 2005, the structure gained additional attention when the U.S. Mint issued the West Virginia state quarter with the bridge depicted on one side. In 2013, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Fayette Station Bridge over the New River, over 800 ft (244 m) below the canyon rim

Construction began on the bridge in June 1974, and was completed on October 22, 1977. The bridge was designed by the Michael Baker Company under the direction of Chief Engineer Clarence V. Knudsen and Corporate Bridge Engineer Frank J. Kempf, and executed by U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division. The final cost of construction was $37 million (equivalent to $145 million in 2023 dollars). It was approximately $4 million, or $16 million in 2023 dollars, over bid. It is made from COR-TEN steel. The use of COR-TEN in construction presented several challenges; notable among them was ensuring that the weld points weathered at the same rate as the rest of the steel.[6]

At the time, the bridge was the West Virginia Department of Highways' largest project in its history, important both in terms of its overall cost, and that the federal government provided 70 percent of the funding. Construction gave a boost to the state and local economy; completion improved transportation.[7] The bridge cut the vehicle travel time from one side of the gorge to the other from about 45 minutes to 45 seconds.[5][8]

On August 14, 2013, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[3] Even though it was not yet 50 years old, it was listed for its exceptional impact on local transportation and its engineering significance.[7]


View of the New River Gorge Bridge from the National Park Service Overlook

The New River Gorge Bridge is within the National Park Service's New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, which protects this portion of the New River Gorge. At the northern end of the bridge, the Park Service operates a visitor center; it has scenic overlooks and a staircase that descends part of the way into the gorge.

A steel catwalk two feet (60 cm) wide runs the full length of the bridge underneath the roadway. Originally built to facilitate inspections, the catwalk is open for guided, handicapped-accessible quarter-mile "Bridge Walk" tours; visitors use safety rigging.[5][9][10]

Since its opening, the bridge has been the centerpiece of Fayette County's "Bridge Day," held the third Saturday of every October.[5] This festival includes demonstrations of rappelling, ascending, and BASE jumping.[11] Bungee jumping, however, has been banned during Bridge Day since 1993.

The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic during the festival. Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, two of the bridge's four lanes were open to traffic during the festivals. Since 2001, security concerns have caused the entire span to be closed to vehicles during these events.[citation needed]

The first person to jump off the New River Gorge Bridge was Burton Ervin, who lives in Cowen, West Virginia, and was a coal-mine foreman. Burton jumped on August 1, 1979, using a conventional parachute. Four BASE jumpers have died at the bridge, three of these during Bridge Day festivals.[12][13][14][15]

Probably because of its height (and lack of barriers), the bridge has regularly attracted suicide jumpers.[16][17]

"A steel catwalk two feet (60 cm) wide runs the full length of the bridge underneath the roadway also open for guided quarter-mile "Bridge Walk" tours; visitors use safety rigging" (from the text).
Panorama of the New River Gorge Bridge

In popular culture[edit]

  • Featured in 2002 film Steal.


See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "2006 Fayette County Traffic Counts" (PDF). West Virginia Division of Highways. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 5, 2009. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System – (#13000603)". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  3. ^ a b "Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 8/12/13 Through 8/16/13" (PDF) (Press release). National Park Service. August 23, 2013. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  4. ^ Carter Jr., George R. (April–May 2006). "Mind the Gap: Building the World's Longest Steel-Arch Bridge". American Heritage. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Green, Diana Kyle (October 2011). "Fayette County High". Wonderful West Virginia. 75: 4–7.
  6. ^ Kistler, Maura (September 5, 2011). "New River Gorge Bridge: 10 Little Known Facts". New River Gorge Adventure Guide. Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Riebe, Erin M. (May 2013). "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: New River Gorge Bridge" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  8. ^ "Images of West Virginia". The Best of West Virginia. The Gallery. Archived from the original on October 30, 2009. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  9. ^ "Bridge Walk". Retrieved November 11, 2009.
  10. ^ Green, Diana Kile (October 2011). "Bridge Walk Wows". Wonderful West Virginia: 8–9.
  11. ^ "BASE" is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: buildings, antennas, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs).
  12. ^ Complete Bridge Day History Archived January 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, My West Virginia Home website
  13. ^ BASE Jumping Fatality List
  14. ^ "Californian Dies in Bridge Day Jump When Chute Fails to Open in Time". Huntington News. October 22, 2006. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  15. ^ Whitener, Lew (October 23, 2006). "Bridge Day tragedy". Fayette Tribune. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  16. ^ Janiskee, Bob (September 16, 2008). "At New River Gorge National River, an Iconic Bridge Attracts Suicide Jumpers". National Parks Traveler. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  17. ^ Tyson, Daniel (August 25, 2015). "Man dies after jumping from New River Gorge Bridge". Fayette Tribune. Retrieved October 17, 2015.

External links[edit]