Sometime in the next three to five years, if all goes according to schedule, the drive from Huntington to Charleston and back will be less wearying.
Work is to begin soon on widening Interstate 64 from the 29th Street exit (Exit 15) to the Merritts Creek connector (Exit 18). When that work is finished, along with other work that is underway, I-64 will be six lanes from the downtown exit (Exit 11) to the mall (Exit 20).
That work combined with the new I-64 bridges — plural — over the Kanawha River between the St. Albans and Nitro exits, along with improving the on and off ramps there, will eliminate most of the bottlenecks and hazardous situations drivers encounter between the two cities.
Although construction zones are seldom fun, they are the price we pay for better and safer roads. Frequent users of I-64 — which includes almost every Tri-State resident with a driver’s license — can look forward to the improvements.
Construction is being paid for through the Roads to Prosperity bond package in 2017. Gov. Jim Justice proposed the program shortly after taking office that year, and it was approved by voters in the fall.
Maybe when the Roads for Prosperity projects are finished, Justice or whoever is governor at that time will turn his or her attention to the state’s secondary road system. Although not as visible or as heavily traveled as I-64, tens of thousands of state residents live along secondary roads or use them to get to work or school. Secondary roads are often the overlooked part of the state highway system. There are few ribbon cuttings or photo ops when they are paved, when slips are stabilized or when guardrails are installed, but they, too, require attention. So far, the candidates of the two major parties have offered little guidance regarding their plans for secondary roads.
Meanwhile, the West Virginia Division of Highways continues to monitor the condition of the cables supporting the roadway of the Frank H. “Gunner” Gatski Memorial Bridge, usually referred to as the East End bridge or the 31st Street bridge.
A reduced weight limit was placed on the bridge in 2018 after a routine inspection found irregularities in the structural elements and possible advanced deterioration of some of the cables in the now 35-year-old bridge.
Greg Bailey, deputy state highway engineer, said engineers are reviewing data from routine inspections to determine if they need to consider making any cable adjustments now or eventually. The bridge was inspected in June and again at the beginning of September.
The East End bridge was the first of its type over the Ohio River. As with other bridges of the cable stay design, problems were found in the 1990s when cables were found to vibrate more than expected in certain weather conditions. Engineers at the time said vibration problems were not a safety problem, but they could lead to unexpected maintenance costs. The East End bridge and others were retrofitted with devices to dampen the vibrations.
West Virginia is a state with limited resources and many infrastructure needs, both in new construction and in maintaining what we have. Water, sewer, road and broadband internet service all compete for a tightening supply of tax dollars. When the immediate problem of COVID-19 has passed, it would be good for state officials to let their constituents know what the master plan is for infrastructure development and how they plan to get us there.