Monthly Archives: November 2012

Mile 132 – Wheeling Suspension Bridge, Wheeling, W.Va.

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge as seen from Wheeling Island.

Many of the icons that make driving an old road enjoyable are actually part of the road itself. In Wheeling, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge is an attraction in and of itself.

The bridge was built in 1849 specifically to carry the National Road across part of the Ohio River, connecting downtown Wheeling with Wheeling Island. Another bridge would then take the National Road from Wheeling Island (in then-Virginia) to Ohio. And while the bridge has been replaced as the main thoroughfare across the Ohio, it remains the oldest suspension bridge still in use in the United States.

The bridge has been fitted with numerous modern traffic control measures.

A drive across the bridge is an experience in itself. The open steel grates create a odd effect that seemingly reduces the grip the car has to the roadway, and is one reason why low speed limits are in place. Because the bridge was built before the invention of heavy automobiles, stoplights at either end of the bridge ensure no more than a handful of cars can be on the bridge at any one time. Heavy vehicles are banned from the bridge entirely. All vehicles are required to maintain 50-foot intervals from one another.

Markings on either side of the bridge define the structure as being part of the National Road.

At roughly 1,000 feet long, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its construction until 1851. However, the bridge deck collapsed in 1854 during a severe storm, and subsequently had to be rebuilt. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

Due to U.S. 40 being re-routed over I-70 from downtown Wheeling to Ohio, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge is no longer directly on U.S. 40. Instead, eastbound travelers should use W.Va.-2 south (Main Street) to 10th Street, which is the bridge. On the Wheeling Island side, the bridge is part of Virginia Street.

When it was built, the Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the longest in the world.