The Jennings Randolph Memorial Bridge carries US Route 30 over the Ohio River between East Liverpool, Ohio and Chester, West Virginia.
The Chester Bridge was opened by the Penn Bridge Company 8 as a tolled facility on December 31, 1896. 6 Costing over $200,000 to erect, the combination suspension and Warren through truss bridge carried two automobile lanes and the Chester & Rock Springs Railway interurban. 8 After a little more than a year, the bridge company went into receivership and it was operated by the receivers for three years. C.A. Smith eventually gained controlling interest in the crossing which was later sold to the East Liverpool Traction & Light Company 6 and acquired by the state of Ohio in 1938. 8
Following the collapse of the Silver Bridge between Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio on December 15, 1967, the Ohio Highway Department ordered a detailed inspection of three other suspension spans along the Ohio River. 2 7 The engineering firm of Modjeski & Masters of Harrisburg was retained and a quick inspection found that the Chester Bridge was safe for automobile traffic despite a bent girder, broken weld spots, and holes in the roadway. 2 A 15-ton weight limit was imposed on the crossing as a more detailed inspection proceeded.
By January 21, the company had found enough evidence of severe cable corrosion, especially in the anchorage on the West Virginia approach. 2 As a result, an automobile weight limit of 2½-tons was imposed, effectively banning trucks and buses from using the deteriorated crossing. Some vehicles were able to be detoured to the nearby Newell Toll Bridge, which had a weight limit of 10 tons, and the Midland-Shippingport Bridge in Pennsylvania.
Work to repair the bent girder and weld spots began not long after while a more extensive inspection was conducted. 2 It revealed that the cables had corroded extensively throughout the superstructure and could not be repaired or augmented with auxiliary cables. It was recommended that the Chester Bridge be replaced.
Another inspection conducted by Modjeski & Masters in October discovered serious deterioration of the cables on the Ohio approach. 2 It was recommended that intervals between automobiles be extended to a minimum of 45 feet. More ominous was that the firm’s warning that within a year, one-way traffic would have to be instituted, and by 1971, the span would have to be closed to all traffic. Another examination in March 1969 unveiled further deterioration of the cables that were underneath the roadway deck, and that many single wires that had made up the cables had parted and could not be repaired or replaced. Effective May 14 at 11 AM, the Chester Bridge was closed to all automobiles.
Preliminary steps to demolish the old Chester Bridge began in July but work was delayed as the Chester city council wanted the old crossing to be repaired. 2 Finally, in April 1970, the Ohio Department of Transportation announced that it would open up bids in June for the removal of the old bridge. 2 8 Demolition began in August and by November, only the towers and main cables remained. 2 After the cables were severed, the tower on the West Virginia side fell into the river toward the shore while the tower on the Ohio side had to be removed by a land crane.
In June 1968, the West Virginia State Road Commissioned hired the consulting engineering firm of Wilbur Smith & Associates to conduct a feasibility study for a new bridge in the East Liverpool and Chester vicinity. 2 Three proposed locations for a replacement crossing were unveiled in January 1969: 1
- Across the downstream tip of Babb’s Island in the area of River Road in East Liverpool and Pennsylvania Avenue in Chester;
- Near the existing bridge between East 3rd Street in East Liverpool and Pennsylvania Avenue in Chester; and
- Between the proposed East Liverpool Freeway extension in East Liverpool and Chester.
Following the closure of the Chester Bridge, efforts to build a new crossing accelerated, leading to a meeting of Ohio Governor Rhodes and West Virginia Governor Moore on May 16 where it was announced that a new bridge would be built over the downstream end of Babb’s Island. 2 It was estimated that the new Chester Bridge would take 17 months to complete, cost $12 million, and be opened by December 1970 or early 1971.
A preliminary design for the new crossing had to be modified after the Coast Guard indicated in May 1970 that the Babb’s Island channel should be kept open for navigational purposes. 4 The revised plans, approved in October, including a redesign of the Ohio approach, an increase in vertical clearance over the Babb’s Island channel from 44.3 feet to 51 feet, and an increase in horizontal clearance between piers to 200 feet. The Ohio approach would tie into the proposed East Liverpool Freeway while the West Virginia approach would cut through the abandoned Rock Springs Park and include an interchange at WV Route 2.
To finance the new Chester Bridge, the states of West Virginia and Ohio applied for 100% federal funding through the 1970 Federal Highways Amendments Act. 5 If it were to be denied, the states were prepared to toll the bridge. On June 14, 1971, the Federal Highway Administration notified the state authorities that the remaining work on the new Chester Bridge would be financed completely with federal funds through the Federal Highways Amendments Act. 5
- December 1970: Bids between $1.7 million and $2.7 million were received for the construction of the substructure and the 125-foot-high piers in December. 4
- June 1971: The first concrete for the Ohio piers was poured after the cofferdams had been built. It was estimated that the piers would be completed within a year. 4 But just before the piers were finished, the height of the river piers needed to be raised to meet revisions for the Ohio approach to accommodate the East Liverpool Freeway along the river. 5 Despite the delays, the main piers were completed on February 10, 1972, just ten days over the original completion date, at the cost of $1.8 million, which was paid for entirely by the state of West Virginia.
- July 17: A $4 million contract was awarded to Novco Corp. of Vincennes, Indiana for the steel to be used in the superstructure. 5 Meanwhile, the completion of the freeway through East Liverpool was delayed because of problems in relocating residents. Further impediments were encountered because of contention over the WV Route 2 interchange in Chester and because of a requirement for an additional environmental impact statement as federal funds were being used to complete the bridge.
- August 1972: A $5.6 million contract was awarded to Melbourne Brothers Construction of North Canton in August for the construction of the Ohio approach, and a 100-ton crane was brought in by the end of the month to start the work. 5
- September 27, 1973: The first steel for the future roadway deck was placed. 5
- March 20, 1974: Bristol Steel & Iron Works of Bristol, Virginia submitted the low bid of $11.2 million for the superstructure construction. 5 For the West Virginia approach, a bid of $908,000 was submitted by the L.R. Skelton & Company of Columbus for the construction of the piers, followed by a bid of $4 million by the National Engineering Company of Strongsville for the superstructure, $4.9 million by the Carl M. Geupel Construction Company for the roadway, and $6.9 million for the freeway to the bridge.
Two labor strikes and extremely cold weather delayed the completion of the bridge decks and superstructure erection. 5 Finally, after years of delay, the new Chester-East Liverpool Bridge was dedicated and opened on November 7, 1977. 2 3 5 It was completed well over the original estimates at the cost of $47 million. 3
The crossing was later dedicated for Jennings Randolph, a notable politician from West Virginia who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1933 to 1947 and in the United States Senate from 1958 to 1985.
- State: Ohio, West Virginia
- Route: US Route 30
- Type: Pratt Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 2,023 feet
- Main Span Length: 745 feet
- Deck Width: 60 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 18.5 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- “Three Locations Proposed for Chester Bridge.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 18 Jan. 1969, pp. G1-G3.
- Waight, Glenn H. “‘Silver Bridge’ Collapse Led to Inspection Here.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 7 Nov. 1977, p. G2.
- “A Bridge to Somewhere.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 7 Nov. 1977, p. G1.
- “Delays Brought Gloomy Years.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 7 Nov. 1977, pp. G4-G6.
- Huston, Lucille. “Federal Funding Sparked Better Outlook For Span.” Evening Review [East Liverpool], 7 Nov. 1977, pp. G10-G12.
- “The Original Chester Bridge.” East Liverpool Historical Society, 2021.
- “Chester Bridge Inspection Asked by Commissioners.” Salem News, 19 Dec. 1967, p. 8.
- “Chester Bridge. Chester, West Virginia.” Laurel Hollow Park.