Gov. Jim Justice says a major chokepoint on Interstate 64 between Huntington and Charleston should be cleared up within four years. It’s an ambitious promise.
The chokepoint in question is the Kanawha River bridge between Nitro and St. Albans, formally known as the Donald M. Legg Memorial Bridge. People who travel the area frequently, particularly at rush hour, expect congestion and white-knuckle driving. Heading east from Huntington toward Charleston, motorists 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, then must 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.
Congestion is expected. 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.
This past Friday, Justice announced that a design-build contract for a new bridge has been awarded to a joint venture of Brayman Construction and Trumbull Construction for $224.4 million.
The intention is to build an entirely new bridge over the Kanawha River north of the existing bridge for westbound traffic. When that bridge is finished, the existing four-lane bridge will be revamped and used for eastbound traffic.
Along with the new bridge, I-64 between Nitro and Scott Depot will be widened. That 3.8-miles section of highway is four lanes connecting two six-lane sections.
The project is scheduled for completion in October 2023.
At one time, four years to design and build a bridge of that size was unheard of, but experience has shown it can be done. Less than 10 years ago, the Ohio River bridge between Madison, Indiana, and Milton, Kentucky, was in need of replacement, but the two communities did not want their only connection severed. So, the piers of the old bridge were widened and strengthened. While that work proceeded, temporary piers for the new bridge were built next to the old one. The new bridge was built on the temporary piers. When work on the old piers was finished, the old bridge was removed and the new bridge was moved into place.
Other new construction methods have a new bridge being built on barges while the new piers are installed. At a given time, cranes lift the new bridge into place.
Both methods eliminate months if not years from a construction schedule.
It remains to be seen if either method or similar ones will enable an accelerated construction schedule for the new I-64 bridge.
No matter how it’s built (legally and safely, of course), a second bridge in that area is needed. It’s the largest single project that’s needed to make one of the busiest highways in West Virginia safer.
This bridge and the previously announced work to widen I-64 between Huntington and the Huntington Mall in Barboursville were two of the reasons voters approved tax increases two years ago for Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program. It’s been a long wait, but if these projects are built and fulfill their promise, the confidence voters in Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties put in Justice’s plan will have been justified.