By Jody Brumage
The Huntington Herald-Dispatch published an editorial on October 11, 1977 on the tenth anniversary of the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. However, the editorial was more than a remembrance of the 46 people who died in the accident. The paper lamented the deteriorated state of Huntington’s Sixth Street Bridge and penned the concerns of many area residents who feared a similar tragedy in their own community.
Harold E. Burdick, publisher of the Herald-Dispatch sent a copy of the editorial to Senator Robert C. Byrd who replied on October 14, 1977, relaying that he had directed his staff to check with the State Department of Highways who had confirmed that though the bridge was under weight restrictions, it was considered safe and not in imminent risk of failure.
Huntington residents did not have such confidence in the durability of the bridge. Poor drainage from the bridge deck hastened the deterioration of the structure, leaving gaps and cracks which people drove and walked over daily crossing the Ohio River. The bridge had also been operating under weight restrictions since 1969 when signs were posted prohibiting vehicles carrying more than 12 tons. This prohibition meant that trucks carrying coal could not use the span, limiting that traffic to a bridge on the southern side of the city.
On Capitol Hill, Senator Byrd, Senator Jennings Randolph, and Congressman Nick Joe Rahall began examining existing federal highway funding to find resources for the project. Senator Randolph introduced an amendment in May to the Federal Highway Act of 1978 to provide funding from a discretionary budget to support the project. On June 16, 1978, Senator Byrd received a letter from Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Related Industries that the discretionary funds were authorized as part of the Fiscal Year 1979 budget, opening the door to secure federal dollars for a new bridge in Huntington.