CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Transportation remembers the 46 people killed in the December 15, 1967, collapse of the Silver Bridge in Mason County. The bridge connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio.
The bridge collapsed without warning at 4:58 p.m., as many were scrambling to complete their Christmas shopping. The tragedy led to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, which established a National Bridge Inspection Program which created bridge inspection standards still in use today.
“Over the past 50 years, that law has saved countless lives by standardizing bridge inspection processes nationwide,” said State Bridge Engineer Tracy Brown, P.E.
The collapse was a life-changing event for Brown.
“Every day it crosses my mind, even now,” Brown said. “At the West Virginia Division of Highways, every time we train new bridge inspectors, we talk about the Silver Bridge. It is the reason we do what we do. If you’re related to the bridge industry in some way in your career, it’s not just a career or a job. It’s a mission you’re on to keep this from ever happening again.”
Throughout the year, in every type of weather and condition, West Virginia Division of Highways bridge inspectors are at work on 6,958 bridges across the state. Every bridge, from the smallest bridge crossing a creek to landmark structures such as the New River Gorge Bridge, is inspected on a schedule, and bridge safety inspectors evaluate each member to ensure the bridges continue to be able to carry their design loads.
“Our bridges are safe,” said Brown. “When we have to post a load rating on a bridge or close a bridge to traffic, we hate it as much as the public does, but we know that the heart of what we do is to keep people safe every time they cross one of our bridges. Our families cross these bridges too, and we know that even when it’s not our family, it’s someone’s family. We won’t let anyone’s family cross a bridge that we wouldn’t let our family cross.”
On December 15, 2019, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark plaque was dedicated at the site where the Silver Bridge once stood, in sight of a remembrance mural by artist Jesse Corlis that depicts the bridge. West Virginia Division of Highways crews placed a portion of the original bridge deck beneath the plaque. “The Silver Bridge is always in the forefront of our minds and it’s our job to make sure no one ever has to go through what those families went through,” said Brown.
The city of Point Pleasant remembered the bridge collapse with a ceremony at 5 p.m.