POINT PLEASANT — An unforgettable day and its inconceivable tragedy will be remembered next week.
Friday, Dec. 15 is the 50th anniversary of the Silver Bridge Disaster and a planned observance will include speakers from the national, state and local levels. The event is being organized by the West Virginia Division of Highways and has been in the planning stages for some time. WVDOH will be placing a large tent at 6th Street near the bridge collapse site with the program starting at 11 a.m.; the tent providing attendees with shelter from the December weather.
“It was important for the West Virginia Division of Highways to get involved with the 50th anniversary of the Silver Bridge collapse for many reasons,” Tom Smith, the secretary for the West Virginia Department of Transportation said. “It wasn’t to re-live the tragedy that took 46 lives, but to recognize and acknowledge the program that came as a result, saving thousands of lives across the nation…the National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS). We also wanted to help Mason County, the City of Point Pleasant, and the surrounding area honor those lives lost and support a community that was forever changed.”
Though the finishing touches are being put on the itinerary, as it stands now, the following will be appearing on Friday: Brandye Hendrickson, the acting administrator for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Gov. Jim Justice; Edward Stephen, the West Virginia division administrator, FHWA; Mike Hall, chief of staff to Justice; WVDOH Secretary Smith; U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins.
In addition, the West Virginia National Guard will present the colors and the West Virginia National Guard Band will also also perform the National Anthem; Mayor Brian Billings, as well as sisters, Martha and Ruth Fout, will remember the ones lost; “The Silver Bridge” song will be performed by Steve Chapman; Billings and Commissioner Tracy Doolittle will be “unveiling” a special surprise; James Kelly, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church will give the benediction.
The national media is expected at the event. The national speaker for the event will be Acting Administrator of the FHWA, Hendrickson.
“The Silver Bridge collapse was a national wake-up call and inspired a much more aggressive effort to inspect and maintain bridges across the country. In fact, this tragedy propelled the nation into a new era of bridge safety,” Hendrickson said in a statement.
Hendrickson was named Deputy Administrator of the FHWA in July. In this capacity, she leads the daily operations of 2,900-person federal agency which spans six time zones. She oversees the agency’s $44 billion annual budget, directs execution of the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” (FAST Act), and co-chairs the U.S.-Canada Transportation Border Working Group and U.S.-Mexico Joint Working Committee. Hendrickson has a deep background in transportation, including two years serving as the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation where she oversaw all aspects of its operations – from its 3,400 employees to its $400 million annual operating budget and billion-dollar annual construction budget. She has nearly 20 years of business experience. She previously served as Deputy Commissioner of Indiana’s Greenfield District (the Hoosier State’s largest transportation district) from 2007-2015 where she managed an annual construction budget of approximately $250 million and an annual operating budget of $48 million. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Indiana University and is a Professional in Human Resources.
Traffic will be blocked from traveling on 6th Street starting around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning so that the event tent can be erected. Traffic will still be able to travel along Main Street past 6th Street through the intersection until 6 a.m. Friday when the intersection of 6th and Main streets will then be blocked. The tent will include video screens on either side of the speaker so the audience can see what’s going on and generators will provide power to the tent meant to keep those visitors comfortable. Chairs will be provided.
Additional parking is being made available at the boat landing near Krodel Park, with free shuttle service to the site starting at 10 a.m. on Friday, and free return service offered following the event’s conclusion. If needed, some cars will be directed to the parking lot of Mason County Schools, just past Krodel Park, with the free shuttle service provided.
In addition, classes in Mason County Schools have been canceled that day to allow students and their families to attend the observance. According to Superintendent Jack Cullen, students will not lose any classroom time, explaining, in the school calendar Dec. 15 is now an outside school environment day (OS day) and March 9 (previously an OS day), will now became an instruction day. The two days were basically swapped in the school calendar to allow students to attend this historic event in the community.
Immediately following the event, a reception with light refreshments will be at the activity building at Trinity UM Church. This is free and open to the public. Then, later in the day on Dec. 15 in Point Pleasant, around 5 p.m., the annual observance of the disaster will take place at the bridge memorial on 6th Street.
Beth Sergent is the editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.