Section of U.S. 340 bridge at Harpers Ferry falls

March 10, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A small section of the U.S. 340 bridge into Harpers Ferry dislodged Wednesday, causing highway construction crews to restrict normally heavy traffic to one lane of travel, according to a state Division of Highways spokeswoman.

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The second that gave way measured about 3 feet by 4 feet, said state highways spokeswoman Carol Melling.

The pavement fell into some metal supports, but the ground below could be seen, said Matt Kitchen, a Division of Highways engineer.

Kitchen said he believes the section collapsed on its own. Cars passing over the damaged area probably caused it to fall into the metal supports, he said.

The collapse was not a shock to Kitchen. The 51-year-old span has been in bad shape for years, and a new $17 million bridge being built beside it could be opened as early as August, according to Kitchen.


As far back as 1989, Jefferson County officials have been warning area residents about the bad condition of the bridge, saying it might be necessary to restrict tractor-trailers from using it.

Kitchen could not say whether other parts of the bridge might be prone to failure.

"It's hard to tell. There is always that possibility," he said Thursday afternoon at the site. "We're monitoring it very closely. That's the best we can do at this stage."

The hole in the bridge was discovered about 7 a.m. Wednesday when construction crews working on the new bridge arrived at the job site, said JoAnna Firmin, project engineer for Corman Construction Inc., the Annapolis Junction, Md., firm that is building the new bridge. The hole opened near the center of the northbound lane, she said.

Crews shut down the northbound lane until about noon when a steel plate was brought in to cover the hole, Firmin said.

Restricting the bridge to one lane of travel caused traffic to back up to a signal light at Bolivar Heights, Firmin said.

"I know we had a lot of drivers cussing at our flaggers," she said.

On Thursday, the steel plate was lifted and concrete was poured into the hole, Melling said. Workers had to cut out deteriorated areas of concrete around the hole to find something substantial to pour the concrete against, Melling said.

The plate was put back down on the fresh concrete and the bridge was opened to two-way traffic Thursday afternoon. The concrete should be cured by today, Firmin said.

The bridge is a busy thoroughfare, handling up to 20,000 cars and trucks a day, Melling said. It is the main way to enter Jefferson County on U.S. 340, although drivers can go around the bridge by going through Virginia, West Virginia State Police Trooper Richard Shockey said.

Drivers heading into Jefferson County on U.S. 340 can make a left by the Amoco station just before the bridge. That road connects with W.Va. 9, allowing drivers to enter Jefferson County by Shannondale, although it adds about 20 miles to the drive, Shockey said.

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