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New River Gorge Bridge

  • Location: Fayetteville, West Virginia, USA
  • Completion Date: 1978
  • Cost: $37 million
  • Length: 3,030 feet
  • Type: Steel Arch
  • Longest Single Span: 1,700 feet
  • Engineer(s): Michael Baker, WVDOH

Bridging The Gap

The New River Gorge Bridge spans a chasm, two sandstone cliffs separated by half a mile of air. Connecting them is an engineering marvel, one of the largest arch bridges in the world. The bridge is more than just a way to cross the gorge; it’s an icon, a hallmark, a symbol of the pride and ingenuity of The Mountain State of West Virginia.

Humble Beginings

The New River that forms the gorge is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Millions of years of erosion had created the high walls of the canyon. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that a bridge across the gap became a possibility.

Construction Begins

In 1973, work crews began construction on what would then be the largest steel arch bridge in the world. Such engineering precision was required that it‘s estimated that it would have taken one person 40 hours a week for 15 years to complete the design calculations. In October, 1977, the bridge was completed for a final cost of $37 million.

Bridge Facts

The New River Gorge Bridge is made of Cor-Ten steel. The steel’s outer layer of rust protects the inner strength, saving taxpayers millions in painting costs. The bridge is 3,030 feet long, and it weighs 88 million pounds. The arch itself is 876 feet off the river below. That’s extremely high- you could stack two Statues of Liberty on top of the Washington Monument underneath it, and still have about 25 feet left over.

Bridge Day

On the third Saturday of October every year, the bridge opens to pedestrian traffic and a huge festival is held. Bridge Day is a celebration of the wild and wonderful nature of our area. B.A.S.E jumpers freefall from the center of the span and unfurl their colorful parachutes against the fall scenery of the gorge. Also, a zip line is set up for anyone brave enough to try dangling up above the river. There are booths lining the road on both sides of the gorge for shopping and snacks, and people can walk back and forth across the bridge as the jumpers leap into thin air.

Update, February 8, 2003: New River Gorge Bridge had to relinquish its claim as the longest steel-arch bridge in the world. The Lupu Bridge in Shanghai, at 550 meters, bests the New River Gorge Bridge by 32 meters (105 feet) — though the design is quite different.