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BOOM: The Fiery Demolition of Ohio's Fort Steuben Bridge

For 84 years, the Fort Steuben Bridge linked the communities of Steubenville, Ohio, and Weirton, West Virginia.

On Tuesday, it went down like a sack of flaming potatoes.

Wrapped in 13 pounds of det cord and 130 pounds of copper-coated linear charges, the ailing bridge stood in a cordoned-off zone while construction crews made a brief countdown. Then they hit the button. Heavy explosives cut through the structure's steel like a boxers' fists through butter, sending pieces of rubble spinning hundreds of feet into the air. Thick slabs of Fort Steuben plunged into the cold waters below, although smoke from the charges made it appear as if the bridge's ghost stood for a few seconds afterward.

The 1,584-foot bridge was supposed to undergo demolition in 2009 due to its narrow, obsolete lanes and deteriorated floor, but the usual government delays put the $2.3 million project on hold until this week. Cars had been forbidden to cross it during its long period on death row. When it finally bit it, multiple cameras recorded the event. Here's another great tape:

The blowing-up aspect of the Fort Steuben project was managed by Controlled Demolition Inc., and before you ask, yes, they have a YouTube channel full of similar explosion porn. CDI not only seems to get the job done neatly, but also provides the hoi polloi with a great show. The company has several Guinness World Records for its explosive antics, including the implosion of the Seattle Kingdome in 2000, then the largest volumetric structure in the world at 19.821 million cubic feet. As one commenter noted about that eardrum-assaulting video, "Being in demolition has to be one of most fulfilling jobs on the planet."

Construction Equipment Guide has the details on the bridge demolition, for anybody who must know more:

Becky Giauque, public information officer of District 11 of ODOT, said the detonation was done by Controlled Demolition Inc., a specialty explosives subcontractor from Phoenix, Md.

“CDI’s segmentation of the steel trusses, suspension cables, and main towers allowed for a more efficient, time-saving and safer demolition operation compared to conventional methods,” she said.

“The basic premise of explosives operation is to isolate the key structural members of the bridge and cut them with linear-shaped charges to safely segment and drop the bridge to the surface below.

“The explosive charges placed on the CDI-selected chords, diagonals, suspension cables and towers totaled 136 cut points and were detonated commencing on the Ohio end of the bridge and progressing to the West Virginia end,” added Giauque.

Video courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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