The Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge opened in 1985 to supplement the aging Sixth Street Bridge and ensure continued easy access between Huntington and Ohio. Also known as the East Huntington Bridge or the 31st Street Bridge, the structure was created in part thanks to Sen. Robert C. Byrd's efforts to secure millions of dollars in federal funding for a new bridge. The bridge was built primarily from concrete and is a cable-stayed model; it was only the second bridge of its kind in the United States at the time of its completion. In 2005 it was officially renamed in honor of former Marshall University football player Frank Gatski (1922-2005). Gatski went on to play professionally for the Cleveland Browns and became the first Marshall alumnus to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For decades the only bridge connecting Huntington to
Ohio was the Sixth Street Bridge (also known as the Huntington & Ohio
Highway Bridge) which opened in 1926. By the 1970s deterioration and weight
restrictions limited the usefulness of this bridge; some even feared another disaster
similar to the Silver Bridge collapse in Pt. Pleasant. Starting in December
1977, following the publication of an editorial expressing these concerns, many
locals sent letters to Sen. Robert C. Byrd urging him to intervene. In early
1979 Byrd secured $27 million in funding from the Federal Highway
Administration for the construction of a new bridge in Huntington.
The next several years were spent planning the new
bridge. A site in the east side of Huntington across from Proctorville, Ohio
was selected, and the architectural firm of Arvid Grant & Associates was hired
to design the structure. Construction began in 1983. The East Huntington
Bridge, as it came to be known, was manufactured with 250 tons of pre-cast
concrete, as opposed to steel. It was designed in a new bridge style known as
cable-stayed. With this format, the suspension cables run directly from a tower
to the bridge deck, in contrast to hanging cables from multiple towers and
vertical rod suspenders like traditional bridges. The East Huntington Bridge
was only the second bridge in the United States to utilize this design; the
first was at Kennewick in Washington. Upon its completion the bridge was 3,787
feet long, with a tower 280 feet high, and cost a total of $38 million. It
opened to the public in August 1985.
The East Huntington Bridge was officially renamed
the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge on November 18, 2006 during halftime of the
Marshall University-UTEP football game. Frank “Gunner” Gatski was born in
Farmington, West Virginia in 1922 and went on to become a celebrated football
player at Marshal College from 1940-1942. After serving in the Army during
World War II, Gatski finished his college studies and signed on to play for the
Cleveland Browns in 1946. The Browns were one of the original teams in the
All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and was one of a handful to join the National
Football League (NFL) when the two organizations merged in 1949.
Gatski played with the Browns for eleven years and
participated in as many championship games; he notably never missed a single
game or practice. In 1957 he switched to the Detroit Lions for one year, and
retired for good in 1958. He won a total of eight championship games. In his
later years Gatski worked as a football coach and athletic director for the
Industrial School for Boys in Prunytown. In 1985 he was elected to the Pro
Football Hall of Fame. Gatski died in 2005; the bridge was renamed a year later
following the passage of a resolution by the state legislature.