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Restoring the Landmark: The Wheeling Suspension Bridge Rehabilitation Project

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was constructed in 1849 to extend the Cumberland Pike across the Ohio River. Built for only $250,000, the bridge consisted of four main towers, each over 130 feet above the water, connecting the main span, which stretched 1,010 feet across the river. This 1,010-foot span made the Wheeling Suspension Bridge the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time.

The bridge has a rich history, playing an essential role in the United States' westward expansion. It facilitated transportation and commerce across the Ohio River, a critical link on the National Road, which connected the eastern seaboard with the Midwest.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge has undergone several repairs and renovations throughout its history. In 1854, a severe windstorm damaged the bridge, necessitating a reconstruction under the guidance of engineer John A. Roebling (who later designed the Brooklyn Bridge). The bridge was further strengthened in the 1870s and 1950s to accommodate increasing traffic loads. In 2019, the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WV DOT) closed the bridge to vehicular traffic due to weight limits not being followed and creating safety hazards. Other than the complete deck replacement in 1854, and a deck widening in 1956, the original structure has remained intact, with only minor repairs and additions over its 170-year life span.

In 2021, Advantage Steel and Construction was awarded the rehabilitation project for the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. This rehabilitation process involves the installation of brand-new wire cables, a complex lighting system, miscellaneous structural steel repairs, and an overall cleaning/coating of the bridge. Advantages Steel’s most significant task is replacing the existing stay and sway wire rope cables and their components. The removal and installation process requires a complex winch and pulley system. Falsework towers are also needed to string the cables up and down while supporting the existing bridge. Accurate readings of the existing cable tensions must be taken before removing the cables to ensure the new cables are properly tensioned to maintain the bridge’s structural integrity.

Advantage Steel worked alongside the Brayman Foundations team to complete a complex repair of the main cable at the northeast anchorage vault of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. The Foundations team was challenged with drilling and installing a soldier pile and multiple anchors within extremely tight tolerances. After successfully anchoring the pile, Advantage was able to transfer the load from the existing main cable into the new pile utilizing a complex jacking system. This is just one of the many obstacles Advantage and the project team have faced on this project thus far.

Working through the documents and blueprints from the 1840s has also posed many unique challenges. Along with a 2-ton weight restriction on the bridge, Advantage Steel has had to employ some creative and unorthodox methods to reach and restore certain repair locations. All of these constraints, added with managing and coordinating work with painting and electrical subs, have kept the project team busy.

The project is currently in full swing, with cable replacement, painting, and electrical work all progressing on schedule. Almost half of the cables have already been replaced, and Advantage is looking to wrap up work on the job later this summer. Once complete, Advantage will deliver the state of West Virginia with a beautiful, newly refurbished bridge that maintains its historical value and appearance.

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