Newell: Memorial Bridge safe

PARKERSBURG – A potential problem uncovered during a recent inspection of the Memorial Bridge turned out to be a false alarm, and recent Facebook posts about the structure being unsafe are not true, city officials said Tuesday.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said the bridge is safe and he plans to explore what action, if any, the city can take against the person whose post said the bridge had “the same faulty pin stress the Silver Bridge had when that span fell” but was reopened anyway. The post had been shared more than 1,200 times by Tuesday afternoon.

“I am going to look into seeing if any charges can be filed,” Newell said. “We’ve been getting all kinds of calls about people worrying about crossing the bridge.”

A Pomeroy resident on Sunday posted that she had “received notice today that the toll bridge going into Parkersburg did not pass inspection but the Mayor of Parkersburg re-opened (sic) it to traffic.” It was reposted at least 1,209 times, with some people questioning its validity and others warning people to stay off the bridge.

Engineering consultant HNTB performed an inspection of the bridge on Aug. 7, while it was closed for maintenance that included the replacement of an expansion joint, City Engineer Justin Smith said.

Results of ultrasonic testing performed by a sub-consultant were received Aug. 21, and there was an indication there could be an internal flaw with one of the bridge pins, Smith said.

HNTB returned to Parkersburg on Friday and had a different company conduct another hypersonic test, this time with a higher resolution device.

“The re-inspection performed on Aug. 22, 2014, showed no internal flaws at this pin location,” Smith said in an emailed statement.

“The engineering consultant did not recommend closure of the bridge at any time,” he said.

Smith said the city takes inspection of the bridge very seriously and follows West Virginia Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inspection Standards guidelines.

“There’s no messing around with that,” he said.

As for the comparison to the infamous Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, Smith said the local span is a completely different type of structure.

“The Parkersburg Memorial Bridge is a cantilever steel through-truss and is not in any way the same construction as the Silver Bridge that collapsed in 1967,” he said. “The Silver Bridge was a continuous-link eyebar suspension bridge of which only two existed in the country. … The collapse of the Silver Bridge was due to a brittle fracture of an eyebar head, not a pin.”

Newell called the original message about the bridge “an irresponsible use of social media.”

When the city accepted the bridge in 2001, the state required it to have an engineering consultant to oversee inspections and maintenance, Newell said. A study by HNTB a few years ago indicated the bridge had a long lifespan ahead of it.

“They said with proper maintenance, this bridge will easily last 50 years and beyond,” Newell said.