The Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge is a cantilever Warren through truss over the Kanawha River between Dunbar and South Charleston, West Virginia.
The proposal for the construction of the Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge dates back to the 1940s, when the mayor of Dunbar, D. L. Salisbury, suggested it as a means to connect the growing suburb of Dunbar with industrial centers in South Charleston and improve the connections between US Route 60 and WV Route 25. 9 12 However, the onset of World War II put a halt to the plan for almost a decade. 12 It was only after the end of the conflict that a bridge commission comprising seven individuals was formed, and traffic surveys were carried out to ascertain the feasibility of investing in the issuance of bridge bonds.
On January 1, 1950, the commission obtained approval for a $48,700 planning grant to commence the planning process for the bridge, with J. H. Milan, the city engineer, leading the early stages. 12 After a change in the South Charleston approach, bids for the construction of the bridge were advertised on March 15, 1951. 1 The specifications required a 28-foot-wide bridge with walkways, a tollhouse on the Dunbar side, sodium vapor lights, and equipment for the tollhouse.
In February 1952, 14 construction was authorized, and groundbreaking ceremonies took place on May 8, 9 where Mayor D. L. Salisbury broke ground for the $4.2 million crossing in the presence of several hundred people. The bridge was designed by Hazelet & Erdal of Chicago, 6 7 8 9 with work beginning by the William J. Howard & Company. 3 8 9 Substructure work was subcontracted to Cunningham & Peter Kiewit & Sons of Omaha, Nebraska, while superstructure fabrication and erection were sub-contracted to the American Bridge Company. 6 7 8 12
The steel for the bridge was sourced from United States Steel’s Homestead Works in Homestead, Pennsylvania, where iron and cold scrap were converted into a 225-ton “heat” of steel. 10 Large rolling mills were used to shape the structural members, which were then transported to American Bridge facilities in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, the site of the world’s largest structural steel fabrication shops, for further refinement. The components were then shipped to the bridge site where they were pinned and bolted together until they were eventually replaced with permanent rivets. Mayor Salisbury drove the golden rivet, signifying the completion of the superstructure construction on the bridge. 2
The new Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge was completed eleven months ahead of schedule, 11 at a cost of $4.5 million, and was dedicated on November 21, 1953. 2 The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Waller S. Hallanan, president of the Plymouth Oil Company and vice president of the Republican National Committee, who emphasized the danger of American indifference. The bridge was originally named the D. L. Salisbury Bridge after the former Dunbar mayor, but it was later renamed. 14
Since its inception, the Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge has struggled to meet its financial obligations, with an inability to pay the bond principal and occasional reliance on alternate sources to cover semi-annual interest payments of $89,000. 14 In 1968, the State Road Commission (SRC) offered to acquire the bridge for $3.7 million, but the proposal encountered formidable opposition. 5
The Cabell County Court, the Village of Chesapeake in Ohio, and five citizens of Chesapeake contested the State Road Commission’s bid, citing a breach of public trust, the squandering of taxpayer resources, and the unlawful diversion of public funds for private use and gain. 13 They sought to transfer ownership of the Sixth Street Bridge from the State Road Commission to the county and prevent the imposition of further tolls on it.
In November 1970, due to a rise in traffic caused by the construction of Interstate 64 in the vicinity, the bridge was finally able to satisfy its first payment of $450,000 in revenue bonds without requiring assistance. 5 With the completion of sections of Interstate 64 in Dunbar and South Charleston, which redirected traffic onto the bridge as the interstate’s Kanawha River crossing had yet to be completed, traffic continued to increase. 15 By May 1971, the bridge was capable of paying eight interest payments to its shareholders when only four were due, and it was poised to commence payment on its $4.4 million principal.
However, concerns arose regarding the future impact of the eventual completion of a new toll-free Kanawha River bridge for Interstate 64, which could result in the Dunbar-owned bridge facing potential bankruptcy. 5 As anticipated, traffic on the Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge dropped by 50% following the completion of Interstate 64 on June 12, 1974. 4 There were still $2.6 million in unpaid revenue bonds that would become due in 1992, creating fresh concerns that the bridge might default on its commitments.
Renovations, including repairs to the roadway deck, expansion joint, and gusset plate, and support modifications, were carried out on the Dunbar-South Charleston Bridge in 1977, 1980, and 2007. 7
- State: West Virginia
- Route: County Route 25/47
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 1,383 feet
- Main Span Length: 450 feet
- Spans: South approach: 64.7', 63.5', 63.5'; south anchor: 225'; north anchor: 225'; north approach: 101', 102', 85'
- Deck Width: 33 feet
- Roadway Width: 28 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 14.9 feet
- Navigational Clearance: 64.6 feet
- “Dunbar Will Hold Bridge Bids Open.” Charleston Daily Mail, 7 Feb. 1951, p. 13.
- “Kanawha River Bridge Dedicated.” Raleigh Register, 22 Nov. 1953, p. 15.
- “West Virginia News Briefs.” Raleigh Register, 17 Apr. 1952, p. 1.
- “Taking Toll.” Sunday Gazette-Mail, 16 Jun. 1974, p. 17.
- Grimes, Richard. “Dunbar Toll Bridge’s Sale to SRC Slated.” Charleston Daily Mail, 14 Aug. 1968, pp. 1-14.
- Holth, Nathan. “Dunbar Toll Bridge.” HistoricBridges.org, 17 Aug. 2019.
- “Dunbar Toll Bridge Sidewalk Project.” West Virginia Department of Transportation, Dec. 2013.
- Gwin, Adrian. “Man Detects Bridge Defects By Tap With Tiny Hammer.” Charleston Daily Mail, 26 Aug. 1953, p. 4.
- “Dunbar Bridge Work Begun.” Charleston Daily Mail, 8 May 1952, pp. 1-12.
- “Here’s How a Bridge Is Born.” Charleston Daily Mail, 20 Nov. 1953, p. 23.
- “The D. L. Salisbury Bridge.” Charleston Daily Mail, 20 Nov. 1953, p. 22.
- “Bridge Speeds State, Federal Route Connections.” Charleston Daily Mail, 20 Nov. 1953, p. 22.
- “Cabell County, 5 Ohio Citizens Sue SRC Over Purchase of Dunbar Bridge.” Charleston Daily Mail, 5 Nov. 1968, p. 13.
- White, Michael L. “Dunbar Toll Bridge Moves Into Black.” Charleston Gazette, 25 Nov. 1970, p. 3.
- Grimes, Richard. “Bridge Luck Turns, Now Makes Money.” Charleston Daily Mail, 5 May 1971, pp. 1-12.