Bridge has fallen down

Project over Potomac River finishes with a bang

Project over Potomac River finishes with a bang

October 05, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION


After carrying traffic across the Potomac River between Shepherdstown and Washington County, Md., for 66 years, the James Rumsey bridge came tumbling down - with one glitch - in a demolition Tuesday morning that attracted dozens of spectators at the nearby Rumsey Monument.

The 144 explosive charges that were attached to the deteriorating steel structure were set off at about 8 a.m., causing the bridge to break and plunge toward the Potomac River.

A gray and brown plume shot out from the bridge after the blast and hung in the hazy morning air.

"Oh, my God," one woman said when the loud crack of the explosives echoed up the river.

A section of the bridge on the West Virginia side jutted out from the hillside after the blast and another round of explosives was set off later to bring down that section, police said.


The general contractor on the project was Brayman Construction Corp. of Saxonburg, Pa., according to the corporation's Web site. The company that did the demolition was Demtech of Dubois, Wyo., a West Virginia Department of Highways spokesman said.

There had been talk of bringing in a crane and using it to knock over the remaining section of bridge, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said.

The demolition became a community event as people lined a stone wall at the Rumsey Monument off Mill Street to see the bridge toppled. Another large crowd gathered at the top of the steps of the monument and others were scattered up and down the park's rocky hillside overlooking the river.

Spectators set up still cameras and video cameras on tripods to catch the moment. Others came with pets and kids in tow.

One group of kids sang "London Bridge is falling down," as they waited for the explosives to go off.

Officials in boats circled in the Potomac River to make sure no one in recreational boats came close to the bridge.

For people like Bill Holyrod of Shepherdstown, it made for a momentous occasion.

"You know how guys are, we like to see things get blown up," Holyrod said as he kept a close eye on the activity below before the blast.

Jim Schmitt, a longtime area resident, was taking some time out from his morning routine to see history in the making.

"You have sliced bread, then you have a bridge coming down. What more could you ask for," Schmitt said.

Because no one was allowed within 1,000 feet of the blast, the Rumsey Monument became a popular spot to view the demolition.

Mill Street at the intersection of High Street was closed to traffic, meaning spectators had to find a parking spot and walk to the park.

Just before the blast, traffic was stopped at both ends of the new bridge, Boober said.

After the blast, traffic on the new bridge was restricted to one lane because of the section of the old bridge that still was standing, Boober said. Traffic on the new bridge was kept in the lane away from the old bridge as a safety measure while demolition crews determined the best way to bring down the last piece of the bridge, Boober said. Traffic became clogged around the bridge and the four-way stop at the intersection of Duke and German streets.

The demolition was the culmination of a project to replace the aging bridge with a new $18.9 million span that was built beside it.

The new 1,100-foot bridge, offering features such as a lighted sidewalk, was started in 2003 and completed Sept. 8.

After the old bridge closed, construction crews began removing its concrete deck, railings and sidewalk, said Brandon KIine, the project supervisor with the Department of Highways.

The deck was removed by cutting it into slabs and hauling it away, Kline said. Construction crews cut away some of the bridge's steel structure to make demolition easier, Kline said.

On Monday, workers began attaching charges wrapped with copper to the remaining sections. When the charges go off, the copper cuts through the steel, Kline said.

"It's almost like a torch," Kline said.

The metal will be cut up and hauled to a scrap metal processor, Kline said.

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