New River Gorge Bridge

large bridge spans across river gorge
The New River Gorge Bridge

Gary Hartley

Quick Facts
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
engineering marvel

At time of construction, the New River Gorge Bridge's arch made it the longest steel arch bridge in the world, a title it held until 2003 with the construction of China’s Shanghai’s Lupu Bridge. It is currently the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States and the third highest bridge in the country. Though the bridge itself employs a fairly conventional design, its construction represents a number of construction achievements. The engineers and ironworkers overcame major obstacles due to its enormous scale and the then-remote Appalachian location.

The New River Gorge Bridge is located in a once remote area of West Virginia just north of Fayetteville in Fayette County, West Virginia. The bridge is situated in the northern section of the 53-mile long New River Gorge National Park and Preserve – a unit of the National Park Service – and is surrounded by lush Appalachian Mountain forest. It carries U.S. Route 19 across the deep gorge of the New River which runs 876 feet below. A rail line runs along each side of the river at the bottom of the gorge while Fayette Station Road (State Route 82) winds its way down the steep terrain and under the bridge on both the north and south sides.

The bridge is a continuous-span, open-spandrel, arch truss bridge constructed of steel. The overall length of the bridge is 3,030 feet, 6 inches (measured from center-to-center of end bearings) and the arch, the longest steel arch in the United States2 , measures 1,700 feet. The width of the bridge is 73 feet 5 inches to the outside of the parapet walls. In total, the massive structure weighs in at 88 million pounds including 21,000 tons of structural steel, 1,700 tons of reinforcing steel, 17,000 cubic yards of substructure concrete, and 6,000 cubic yards of superstructure concrete.

The bridge includes four 12 foot vehicular lanes, a 6 foot 10 inch median with barrier, and two 8 foot wide shoulders with safety parapets. All structural steel for the bridge is "COR-TEN B," a weathering steel that rusts when exposed to the elements for several years and eliminates the need for painting. Its chemical makeup also increases its resistance to corrosion. High-strength bolts, conforming to the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials, were used in connections. 

The bridge was not only an engineering feat but also a great improvement for the economy and lives of local residents. The drive across the gorge at this location was reduced from a 45 minute drive on winding and often treacherous roads to less than a minute. Once it opened to regular traffic, the bridge completed the link to connect areas north and south of the gorge. Traffic along the route increased 140 percent with the opening of the bridge.

The bridge opening had almost an immediate impact. For example, by April 1978, one trucking company reported an estimated savings in fuel and wages of approximately $3000 a day by cutting off 500 miles a week. Area hospitals located south of the bridge reported an increase in patients from north of the gorge including a 21% increase at Oak Hill Hospital, located about 15 minutes south of the gorge. Without the New River Gorge Bridge, such a trip would have taken about an hour. Prior to its opening, patients north of the gorge found it faster to get to Montgomery or Charleston for their health care needs.

Every fall since 1980 festival goers converge on the small community to attend Bridge Day, the only day of the year when it is legal to walk on, as well as jump and rappel from the bridge. The festival has grown from its humble beginnings with five parachutists and a few thousand onlookers to welcome an average of 80,000 spectators every year watching nearly 400 B.A.S.E. jumpers and 300 rappellers.

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Last updated: August 8, 2023