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Down in a Blaze of Glory: Fort Steuben Bridge is No More

February 21, 2012
By IAN HICKS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WEIRTON - The nearly 84-year-old Fort Steuben Bridge, once the primary link between Weirton and Steubenville, went down in a blaze of glory this morning.

Just before 7:15 a.m., the Joseph B. Fay Co. detonated nearly 500 explosive charges, sending a fireball streaking from Ohio to West Virginia, followed by a bigger one, dropping the 1,255-foot truss into the Ohio River and sending the bridge's two towers falling toward their opposing river banks.

In all, it took less than five seconds for the span, which has been closed to traffic for nearly three years due to structural problems, to fall into the water, leaving behind a shroud of dark smoke and a smattering of applause and cheers from the spectators who woke up early to witness the demolition from a hillside alongside Freedom Way. Some came armed with lawn chairs and binoculars around their necks, while others brought tripods and video cameras to capture the bridge's final moments.

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According to Ohio Department of Transportation District 11 Bridge Engineer Waseem Khalifa, the demolition - years in the making - was "brilliantly executed."

"Everything went as well as we could have expected it to," Khalifa said. "The Joseph B. Fay Co. did a great job on this one. ... I cannot point to even one issue that would have put us behind schedule."

At about 7 a.m., West Virginia State Police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol closed the nearby U.S. 22 Veterans Memorial Bridge and Ohio 7, enforcing a 1,000-foot safety zone around the bridge. Just moments after the blast, traffic was flowing freely once again.

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Photos by Scott McCloskey
The closed Fort Steuben Bridge lit-up the skyline between Weirton and Steubenville at approximately 7:15 this morning as it was demolished by crews with the Joseph B. Fay Co of Russellton, Pa.

"The big job starts now, actually," Khalifa pointed out, noting U.S Coast Guard regulations require the contractor to make the river's main channel navigable within 24 hours of the blast.

However, work to remove all debris from the river will continue through Friday, and though this morning represented the big moment most had been waiting for, it will take several months to complete the demolition in its entirety. All but one of the bridge's piers will be removed down to the water line, with underwater explosive charges eventually taking care of the submerged portions.

This all will be done by April 15, according to Khalifa, and Steubenville officials have plans to build an observation deck out of the remaining pier closest to the Ohio river bank. The entrance and exit ramps leading to the bridge will be gone by mid-July, Khalifa noted.

The Fort Steuben Bridge, once-privately owned, was built in 1928 at a cost of about $1 million. It became the primary link between Weirton and Steubenville during the 1950s, when the Buckeye State took ownership, but its use declined dramatically when the much wider Veterans Memorial Bridge opened on May 4, 1990.

With no feasible way to widen the bridge's deck, the Fort Steuben Bridge was slated for demolition after crews discovered serious safety issues during routine maintenance of the structure in 2009.

The Joseph B. Fay Co. of Russellton, Pa. won the demolition contract with a bid of about $2.3 million. The company, which also removed the Bridgeport Bridge from Bridgeport to Wheeling Island last September, will own all of the scrap metal from the bridge.

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