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The Interstate 64 bottleneck over the Kanawha River at Nitro could be relieved in about three years. Construction is to begin soon on a new bridge next to the existing one seen here. It will be for westbound traffic. Then the existing bridge will be removed and replaced with a new bridge for eastbound traffic.

Construction is about to begin on a new Interstate 64 bridge over the Kanawha River at Nitro. It’s a welcome development.

“We are anticipating a fall start date for the construction,” Travis Knighton, head of the West Virginia Division of Highways District 1, said in an interview last week. Work will start with river access being built so equipment can get in the river and begin work on new piers for the westbound bridge, Knighton said.

Soon after, work will begin on improvements to the St. Albans interchange.

“We don’t think we’re going to impact traffic until spring 2021,” Knighton said.

Some plans have changed. Instead of building a new bridge and renovating the old one, the old one will be replaced, too, Knighton said. Both will be of a steel plate girder design similar to the Dick Henderson bridge at St. Albans, Knighton said. Once the new westbound bridge is completed, traffic will be shifted onto it while the old bridge is removed and a new one built for eastbound traffic.

While that work is going on, 3.8 miles of I-64 between Nitro and Scott Depot will be widened. All this work — two bridges and the widened highway — is scheduled for completion by October 2023.

The existing bridge is a chokepoint for traffic, and it has been for years. People who travel the area frequently, particularly at rush hour, expect congestion. Heading east from Huntington toward Charleston, drivers must deal with traffic entering from the right with a very short lane for merging. It’s worse westbound, where three high-speed lanes of traffic are reduced to two at the Nitro exit. They must also deal with traffic entering from Nitro, again with a short ramp for merging. You have three high-speed lanes merging into two with inadequate space on a road where traffic routinely moves at 80 mph or more.

Congestion is inevitable. Even in times of light traffic, alertness is called for. Accidents are not uncommon. At times I-64 from Nitro to Cross Lanes is West Virginia’s largest parking lot.

Last fall, the state awarded a design-build contract for the new bridges and the expanded I-64 to a joint venture of Brayman Construction and Trumbull Construction for $224.4 million.

It will be a sight to see, with tall piers being placed in the river and a new open-air bridge — without the usual steel beams or cables — going up. Then travelers will see an old bridge demolished and replaced.

When everything is done, the chokepoint should be gone and entering and exiting I-64 in that area will be safer.

Knighton said drivers can expect some delays to traffic in that area as the bridges are built and interchanges are rebuilt.

In a prepared statement, Jimmy Wriston, deputy secretary of transportation said, “I-64 was designed at a time when there was much less traffic. No one wants work zones, but everyone needs roadwork, so as it gets closer to time for work to start on this project, we will be communicating with the public and reminding everyone of our new work zone motto, ‘Heads up; phones down!’”

Maps and timetables of the project are available at https://nitro64.com/project-details/.

Building two new bridges and widening almost four miles of interstate highway in a three-year period is an ambitious schedule. The westbound bridge is scheduled to be finished next year. It truly will be a welcome sight.

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