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.