Federal state and local officials gathered last week in Point Pleasant, West Virginia to commemorate a tragedy. Fifty years ago, during rush hour on Dec. 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge connecting Ohio and West Virginia collapsed into the Ohio River, sending 46 people to their death.

Investigators later determined that the incident was caused by a crack in an eyebar in the bridge’s suspension chain. The tragic event brought nationwide attention to the issue of bridge safety and led to a systematic effort by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) known as the National Bridge Inspection Program. 

“The Silver Bridge collapse was a national wake-up call and propelled the nation into a new era of bridge safety,” said Acting FHWA Administrator Brandye L. Hendrickson.

By 1971, National Bridge Inspection Standards were established as the result of the Federal-aid Highway Act of 1968. The new standards required that bridges, and their various component parts – ranging from pilings to deck plate – be inspected at least once every two years, with special emphasis on fractures, corrosion and fatigue. In addition, FHWA used the data from bridge inspections nationwide to create the National Bridge Inventory and to standardize bridge inspector qualifications. 

A half-century after the Silver Bridge collapse, FHWA’s bridge inspection standards ensure that only bridges safe for travel are open to traffic. Over 300,000 bridge inspections are conducted annually.