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Fifty years ago, the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Pt. Pleasant, West Virginia, killed 46 people and resulted in the country creating the National Bridge Inspection Program.
On December 15, a large crowd, including victims’ relatives, gathered to remember the victims and recognize the inspection program that is “saving thousands of lives across the nation,” according to state Transportation Secretary Tom Smith.
The Silver Bridge opened on Memorial Day 1928. The 1,760-foot-long, two-lane, suspension span was 102 feet above the Ohio River channel bottom.
On December 15, 1967, the bridge suddenly collapsed at 5 p.m. Thirty-two vehicles were on the bridge and dropped into the river, killing 46 people.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined the bridge collapsed because of a cleavage fracture in the lower limb of an eye of the north eyebar suspension chain on the Ohio side. Due to stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue, the north chain snapped and, because of the structure’s design, the bridge collapsed.
The ensuing Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 required the U.S. secretary of transportation to establish national bridge inspection standards and that states maintain an inventory of federal highway system bridges. Over the years, the program was expanded from only bridges on the federal highway system to all bridges greater than 20 feet on all public roads.
You can watch a short documentary on the Silver Bridge collapse below.