WHEELING - Motorists and pedestrians were forced to use alternate routes to and from Wheeling Island late Saturday afternoon after a routine inspection of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge showed that a major cable on the downtown Wheeling side had snapped near the top of the bridge.
While the cable is not a load bearing cable, it does help to prevent the bridge from swaying. That prompted West Virginia Division of Highways officials to close down the bridge with barricades to motorists and pedestrians.
With the Celtic Festival and a Wheeling Nailers hockey game slated last night in downtown Wheeling, traffic normally traveling across the Suspension Bridge was forced to use the Fort Henry Bridge to access the downtown area. Some traffic back-ups resulted.
A steady stream of vehicles made abupt turns on the Wheeling Island side of the bridge when confronted by construction barrels and yellow tape blocking the entrance to the span.
Highways officials are expected to return to the bridge on Monday to further assess the damage. It is not known when the bridge will reopen.
In October, officials announced that the Suspension Bridge would receive an $8.2 million facelift sometime in 2013. The bridge, originally built in 1849, was severely damaged by a wind storm in 1854 and rebuilt in 1856.
The bridge has withstood many incidents over the years including major damage to a portion of its decking in 2010 after a vehicle accident took out several sections of the sidewalk.
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the first span to cross the Ohio River and remains the oldest vehicular suspension bridge still in use. The bridge is just over 1,000 feet in length and its major cables are anchored to masonry walls located under Main Street. One set of the cables can be found in the sub-basement at the Capitol Theatre.