CHARLESTON, WV – On a drizzly night in Spencer, West Virginia, with the weather threatening to spit snow, contractors for Rock Forge Bridge Company began sliding the Colonel Ruby Bradley Bridge into place. It’s a process that will take a few days to complete.
Eight inches at a time.
“This particular project is a good example of how a highway project can impact a community,” said West Virginia Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E. “It carries a lot of traffic through the town of Spencer. It’s always busy across that bridge.”
Built in 1932, the Colonel Ruby Bradley Bridge carries US 33 across Spring Creek at the intersection of US 33 and US 119. It is one of the busiest intersections in Roane County.
Replacing the aging bridge had been in discussion for years. But Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program finally allowed construction to begin. In September 2020, Justice awarded Rock Forge Bridge Company, of Amma, a contract for $5.8 million to rebuild the Colonel Ruby Bradley Bridge.
“We’ve had it under construction for nearly a year,” Wriston said.
Because of the almost constant traffic across the bridge, the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) and Rock Forge came up with an innovative plan to replace the bridge. “We faced a lot of challenges because we still had to deal with all that traffic,” Wriston said.
Rock Forge first built a new bridge just upstream of the old span. When the new bridge was finished, traffic was shifted onto the new structure and the old bridge was torn down.
Then, beginning on the evening of Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, Rock Forge began sliding the new bridge onto the abutments of the old bridge, a few inches at a time.
Work is being done at night to minimize the impact on traffic. Huge bolts that run the entire width of the bridge – one on the eastern side and one on the western side – are being loosened and tightened to slowly pull the bridge into its new position.
First, Dawn dishwashing liquid is liberally slathered underneath the new bridge to lubricate its slide across the abutments. The bridge is pulled across ceramic plates to keep from damaging the abutments underneath, and the plates are moved forward every few inches like a heavy weight being pulled across wooden rollers.
It takes about 15 minutes to move the bridge eight inches, then another 15 minutes to reset the giant bolts for another pull. Rock Forge estimates it will take three nights to move the bridge the 44 feet to its final destination.
Progress is so slow that it’s hard to see any movement. Contractors use a tape measure to track progress a quarter inch at a time. On top of the bridge, the growing gap between the road stripes on the bridge and on the road are another clue to how far the bridge has moved.
But the result will be worth the effort.
“The town up there has waited a long, long time for this,” Wriston said. “It’s going to help Spencer grown. It’s going to help Spencer prosper.”