HUNTINGTON — Wednesday marks the start of the next three years of a new normal for Cabell County drivers.
Orange cones will appear Wednesday as the West Virginia Division of Highways begins phase one of a $71.7 million, three-year project to expand Interstate 64 between the Huntington Mall and Merritts Creek from four to up to eight lanes.
“It’s very important for us to get some more capacity on this interstate,” said Deputy Commissioner of Highways Jimmy Wriston during a news briefing Tuesday on the project. “It’s the corridor that connects two of our major cities — Huntington and Charleston. We need a modern, efficient highway to move people and goods through West Virginia, and this is the kind of project that gets it done.”
Along with the expanded lanes, the project will replace five sets of bridges.
Heading west, the project begins about half a mile before the East Mall Road exit, replacing the bridge that crosses over the Mud River. From there, the bridge over West Mall Road, the bridge over Mud River Road, the bridge over Wild Cat Road and the bridge over Big Ben Bowen Highway will all be replaced and widened. The project ends just before the Guyandotte River bridge, just after the Merritts Creek exit.
The interstate will be expanded to six lanes with the exception of from Exit 18 (Merritts Creek) to Exit 20B (East Mall Road), which will be expanded to eight.
“If you can envision, the ramps will be continuous between the two,” said Scott Eplin, DOH District 2 manager.
East Mall Road will also be expanded during this project to increase its capacity and alleviate some congestion.
With cones going up Wednesday, Eplin said the department hopes to make traffic adjustments before the holiday shopping season kicks into full gear. Phase one will include constructing a median where traffic can be diverted when lanes are shut down. The goal is to complete the median this winter so work can begin in earnest this spring.
Eplin said at all times during the project, two lanes will be open but there could be delays.
Wriston encouraged drivers to put down their cellphones, stay alert and follow the speed limit in the construction zones.
“One of my law enforcement friends told me just the other day that the best way to go fast is to slow down,” Wriston said. “What you need to do is (slow down) through a work zone. Smooth is fast. If you can slow down, pay attention and follow those speed limits, you’ll get through much faster. An 8-minute delay on your daily commute is more than worth the rest of your life.”
The project, awarded to Triton Construction Inc. of Nitro, West Virginia, was originally going to be paid for with the general obligation bonds voters approved as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity project, but the state received federal funding.
Another Roads to Prosperity project, the St. Albans-Nitro bridge on I-64, was put out to bid in August. Wriston said an announcement on that project will come soon.
Wriston also said the DOH is in the design phase on a project to expand the interstate from the 29th Street exit to where the Merritts Creek project ends. The end goal is to have I-64 between Huntington and Charleston expanded to six lanes the entire way.
The completion date for the Barboursville interstate project is October 2022.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.
IRONTON — Two hours after the polls closed Tuesday night in Lawrence County, a computer glitch was hampering the result of vote totals at the courthouse in Ironton.
The only race available Tuesday night was in South Point, where Mayor Jeff Gaskin won reelection to a second four-year term as mayor. Unofficial vote totals from five South Point precincts had Gaskin with a 703-225 victory over Fred Craft. With the absentee and walk-in votes added, Gaskin finished with an 836-248 victory.
“It’s overwhelmingly obvious people like what we’re doing in South Point,” Gaskin said at the courthouse Tuesday night. “I’m extremely happy with the race. I’m elated with the help and support I’ve had. We will continue with our low utility rates that could be the lowest in the Tri-State.”
One new thing Gaskin was proud of was a decision by South Point Village Council to buy a handicapped-accessible merry-go-round.
“It will be shipped out in early December, and we’ll install it as soon as we can, weather permitting,” he said.
Two hours after the polls closed, the board of elections could release only the walk-in and absentee vote totals. A computer glitch with new voting machines the board purchased earlier this year was hampering the vote totals Tuesday.
The only countywide levy on the ballot, a proposal to add a 2.5 mill levy, was losing early by a total of 1,583 to 1,200.
A proposal in Ironton for an increase in the city income tax from 1% to 1.75% was losing 414-148.
In the Ironton mayor’s race, Katrina Keith, the incumbent mayor, was losing early to Sam Cramblitt. Cramblitt had 395 votes to 161.
Keith filed suit against the board of elections last month seeking to have Cramblitt’s name removed from the ballot and no votes for him counted. She said Cramblitt didn’t qualify to run for mayor under the Ironton city charter. The case was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court.
No decision has been reached on the issue.
MORGANTOWN — On Saturday, Robert Parsons, a 61-year-old man from Chesapeake, Ohio, got a new lease on life when surgeons at the West Virginia University Heart and Vascular Institute and the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance performed West Virginia’s first heart transplant.
“Today marks a new chapter for transplantation in West Virginia,” said Michael Shullo, Pharm.D., associate vice president of transplant services for WVU Medicine and leader of the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance, in a news release. “This is the culmination of a tremendous team effort to support access to organ transplantation for all West Virginians and patients from our surrounding regions.”
The operation took six hours and concluded at noon. By 4 p.m., Parsons was stable and taken off the ventilator, according to the release. He was sitting up and visiting with his siblings from Huntington.
The transplant team included heart surgeons Vinay Badhwar, M.D., Muhammad Salman, M.D., and Chris Cook, M.D.; heart failure cardiologists Christopher Bianco, D.O., George Sokos, D.O., and Marco Caccamo, D.O.; anesthesiologists Matthew Ellison, M.D., and John Bozek, M.D.; and surgical assistants, transplant coordinators, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians and perfusionists.
“We have opened the doorway to a new future for West Virginians, who no longer have to travel out of state for heart transplantation,” said Badhwar, transplant surgeon and executive chairman of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute and the WVU Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery.
The WVU Medicine program has several more patients in need currently on a waiting list for heart transplantation.
“This heart transplant was the first ever in West Virginia’s 156-year history, and it marked a pivotal moment for the Institute as it continues to establish itself as one of the premier heart and vascular programs in the United States,” said Albert L. Wright Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System, in the release. “We are proud of the team of dedicated professionals who made this surgery a success, and we are honored to bring this critical service to the people of West Virginia and all we serve.”
For more information on the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Heart. For more information on transplantation or to refer a potential heart transplant patient, contact the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance at 304-974-3004. To register as an organ donor, visit www.registerme.org/wvumedicine.