The Robert C. Byrd Bridge carries WV Route 527 over the Ohio River between Huntington, West Virginia, and Chesapeake, Ohio. It is named after West Virginia’s longest-serving senator.
6th Street Bridge
The need for a bridge connecting Huntington with Ohio was apparent as early as 1869, when Huntington founder Collis P. Huntington entrusted his brother-in-law, Delos W. Emmons, with the task of purchasing land for the city along with land in West Virginia and Ohio for a future bridge. 5 For the next 60 years, however, a ferry shuttled passengers and later automobiles between the two states.
Local businessman C.L. Ritter believed that the city’s growth would be stunted without adequate transportation connections to northern markets, and by 1925, had enlisted more than a dozen of the city’s business leaders to hatch a plan to construct an Ohio River crossing. 5
In April 1925, a bridge site was chosen just west of downtown at 6th Street, and construction began shortly thereafter on the approaches. 5 The new 6th Street Bridge, carrying US Route 52, opened to traffic on May 23, 1926. An estimated 10,000 visitors showed up for the dedication ceremonies.
The new bridge was comprised of three Warren through trusses on the approaches, a 400-foot cantilevered Warren through truss main span, and a 22-foot roadway and sidewalk. 5 Atop the bridge were two-ton decorative spires that were each 11.2-feet high. 3 The crossing was tolled and cost 25 cents for automobiles, ten cents for motorcycles, 15 cents for a sidecar, $1 for trucks, and five cents for pedestrians and bicycles. Each additional passenger in a vehicle would cost 5 cents. 5
The 6th Street Bridge was privately owned until 1940 when it was sold to Cabell County for $2 million. 5 In 1952, deferred maintenance had caught up with the county who was unable to finance the needed repairs, and the bridge was turned over to the state of West Virginia. Tolls on the crossing were removed shortly after.
By the late 1950s, evening rush hours snarled downtown Huntington as traffic queued up to cross the bridge into Ohio. 5 Likewise, morning rush hours into Huntington congested traffic in Chesapeake. Traffic studies completed during that time indicated the need for a twin span or for the construction of other bridges in the region to handle the increased demand.
A second crossing in the region was constructed at West 17th Street in 1968. 5 To assist in paying the bonds levied for its construction, tolls were levied on both the West 17th Street and 6th Street Bridges until 1978.
A third Huntington crossing was planned for the east side, but construction was halted for decades due to funding issues and site selection problems. The two-lane East Huntington Bridge eventually opened in 1985. 5
Robert C. Byrd Bridge
The West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH) initially favored rehabilitating the 6th Street Bridge for continued use, but detailed inspections showed that the crossing would be far too costly to restore because of its age and structural deterioration. 5 Groundbreaking ceremonies for a replacement 6th Street Bridge were held on April 30, 1991, with preliminary construction beginning shortly thereafter. 1 The 6th Street Bridge was closed mid-1993 to allow for the construction of the approaches and the completion of the superstructure.
The new $32.6 million bridge was dedicated and opened to traffic on November 5, 1994. 1 2 Governor Gaston Caperton proclaimed the new structure the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, a long-serving Senator from West Virginia who had helped obtain funding for the new crossing. Other funding sources included $1.4 million from the state of Ohio, $5.6 million from the state of West Virginia, and $25.3 million from the federal government. 1
The roadway deck from the old bridge was removed in January 1995, 5 followed by the spires atop the superstructure. 3 All of the spires were taken to a warehouse by the C.J. Mahan Construction Company of Grove City, Ohio for restoration.
On February 3, 1995, explosive charges removed the 400-foot center span of the 6th Street Bridge. 5 The towers were later dropped separately. The concrete piers were blasted into pieces on July 17, 1995, however, debris flew over the floodwall into the city and onto Veterans Memorial Boulevard. Dozens of chunks of concrete ranging from pebble-sized to several pounds damaged surrounding streets, buildings, and several automobiles, however, no injuries were reported.
A small ceremony marked the installation of one of the bridge spires outside of the Chesapeake City Hall on October 29, 1995. 3 4 Two other spires were installed along 9th Street between 3rd and 5th Avenues. 4
- State: Ohio, West Virginia
- Route: WV Route 527
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 6,416 feet
- Bridge opening sparks memories.” Ironton Tribune. 6 Nov. 1994.
- “Byrd dedicates Ohio River bridge.” Newark Advocate, 6 Nov. 1994, p. 7A.
- Bridge’s old spire getting a new lease.” Herald-Dispatch, 29 Oct. 1995.
- Chambers, Bryan. “Plaza to reopen in December.” Herald-Dispatch, 26 Nov. 2006.
- Castro, James E. “The Story behind Huntington’s First Bridge.” Huntington Quarterly, 2006, pp. 20–23.