The Chuck Yeager Bridges are a pair of steel through arch crossings that carry the West Virginia Turnpike and Interstates 64 and 77 over the Kanawha River in Charleston, West Virginia.
The West Virginia state legislature authorized the expenditure of funds toward the study of the feasibility of building a superhighway similar to other projects being planned and constructed in other states. Early proposals called for a highway to be built between Parkersburg and Princeton, while another envisioned a modern highway from Wheeling to Princeton. Those plans were shelved in a 1951 study because of very high costs. It instead recommended that a toll road be built from Ripley to Princeton and that it be built as a two-lane facility with provisions for future widening to four lanes. 1
The ground was broken for the construction of the West Virginia Turnpike in November 1951, but by the time construction began, the northern terminus had been relocated to Charleston. 1 It was said that during its construction, it was a bridge builder’s paradise. On the 88-mile Turnpike from Charleston to Princeton, three major bridges and 73 minor bridges with an average length of 237 feet were erected. 2
The new West Virginia Turnpike—and the new $2.4 million 4 Charles “Chuck” Yeager Bridge spanning the Kanawha River between the Kanawha City neighborhood of Charleston and Port Amherst, was constructed by the American Bridge Company 5 and dedicated on November 8, 1954. 2 Hailing from Lincoln County, Yeager was a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force and the first aviator to fly faster than sound. At the dedication ceremony, a motor cavalcade of 500 automobiles, extending over three miles in length, was present. 3
On February 9, 1961, an employee of the Amherst Barge Company noticed a broken bridge beam on the north end of the Yeager Bridge. 4 6 Turnpike traffic was regulated to alternating one-way traffic as a precautionary measure. 6 On February 21, the American Bridge Company cut away a four-foot section of the defective 60-foot beam so that it could be sent to the U.S. Steel laboratories for extensive examinations with X-Rays and other methods to determine whether the metal was defective just at the break or whether the whole beam needed replacing. 4 A 500-ton hydraulic jack was installed to hold up the cut beams.
A steel splice to correct the break, which was caused by a defective steel casting, 6 was installed in late March. 5
Studies were undertaken to upgrade the Turnpike in the early 1970s, and work to upgrade the highway to four lanes had commenced because of escalating traffic counts and congestion, and because of a high number of accidents. The update was also needed because of the proposal to route Interstate 77 over the Turnpike.
In May 1971, the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) approved plans for the construction of a parallel Yeager Bridge, which also included plans to realign the northern terminus of the Turnpike from US Route 60 to Interstate 77 which was slated to be built alongside Piedmont Road. 7
A parallel bridge to the original Yeager Bridge for northbound traffic was completed in 1983, and the original circa 1954 Yeager Bridge was rehabilitated in 1986.
In June 2021, Southern Road and Bridge was awarded a $16.2 million contract to repaint the Yeager Bridges in a distinctive blue and gold paint scheme, the state’s official colors. 8 The contract award was 11% lower than the engineer’s estimate. The project is estimated to be completed by June 2023.
- State: West Virginia
- Route: West Virginia Turnpike, Interstate 64, Interstate 77
- Type: Steel Arch
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2,166 feet (1954); 2,187 feet (1983)
- Main Span Length: 474 feet (1954); 474 feet (1983)
- Deck Width: 37.7 feet (1954); 46 feet (1983)
- Above Vertical Clearance: 16.1 feet (1954); 16.4 feet (1983)
- Navigational Clearance:
- Monday, Christopher R. “The West Virginia Turnpike: 88 Miles of Miracle.” West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly. Vol. 11, no. 2, 2 Mar. 2003.
- Donnelly, Shirley. “New Bridge To Dwarf Other Spans.” Beckley Post-Herald, 30 Jun. 1973, p. 4.
- Donnelly, Shirley. “Our Turnpike Notable in Many Ways.” Beckley Post-Herald, 30 Jun. 1973, p. 4.
- “Broken Bridge Beam Sliced Out For Study.” Charleston Daily Mail, 21 Feb. 1961, p. 4.
- “Turnpike Bridge Spliced.” Charleston Daily Mail, 30 Mar. 1961, p. 36.
- “Yeager Bridge Break Sighted By Barge Man.” Charleston Daily Mail, 10 Feb. 1961, pp. 1-4.
- “Parallel Tunnel, Bridge Okehed For I-77 Routing.” Beckley Post-Herald, 28 May 1971, p. 16.
- “WVDOH releases artist’s rendering of Chuck Yeager Bridge.” West Virginia Department of Transportation, 31 Mar. 2022.