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Area adjusts to Nitro-St. Albans bridge closing

Chris Dorst
A St. Albans police car parked at the foot of the Nitro-St. Albans bridge on Monday reminds motorists and pedestrians that the bridge is closed.
Chris Dorst Nitro resident Mary Anne Legg gets back in her car after she had it washed at Hand Wash One next to the base of the Nitro-St. Albans bridge. The heavily traveled bridge, the only quick way between the two cities, closed for construction on Monday. Legg, who frequents St. Albans for groceries and other shopping, said the lengthy detours would be a headache.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Usually when Mary Anne Legg needs to replace the taillight on her car it's not that big of a deal.

But Monday marked the first day of the Nitro-St. Albans bridge closure, and Legg, of Nitro, needed to go to the Advance Auto Parts store across the river.

"It sucks," she said. "I had to go all the way down and around for a $2 light bulb. It probably cost me $5 in gas."

The bridge will be closed until November while the state Department of Transportation makes renovations, which will include reinforcing its existing piers and replacing the structure that carries traffic across the span.

The new structure will have three lanes, 6-foot-wide shoulders and 5-foot-wide sidewalks.

During the closure, motorists must take a 9.5-mile detour to the Nitro exit of Interstate 64, or a 12-mile detour to the bridge between Dunbar and Spring Hill. There's no other quick way between the cities.

On Monday at about 3 p.m., the W.Va. 817 detour into St. Albans was backed up for miles, as construction made the road one lane for several hours near Anne Bailey Elementary School.

"It's better than ending up in the water," Legg noted, however.

The deteriorating bridge, officially known as the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge, has been a longtime safety concern. It was built in 1934, and although the traffic routine will take some getting used to, residents seem happy to see it getting fixed.

"It will make everyone feel a lot more safe," said Michelle Taylor, of Nitro. "They've got to do it."

On Monday, even though there were large flashing signs notifying motorists the bridge would close at 6 a.m. and orange signs planted in the ground noting detours, Cpl. C.A. Nutter of the Nitro Police Department said plenty of people had to turn around after seeing the barricade at the foot of the bridge.

"It hasn't been as bad as I thought it would," Nutter said despite the few mishaps.

Nitro Police Chief Brian Oxley said there's enough flashing police lights and signage to make motorists well aware of the closure on the Nitro side of the bridge.

As of Monday evening, he hadn't been made aware of any real problems.

"Well I don't have any wood near me to knock on ... but you know so far it's been rather smooth," Oxley said.

He talked to officers working the day shift, who reported to Oxley that just a few motorists "acted confused or maybe put out" by the bridge closure.

Police were stationed at both entrances of the bridge and would remain present until at least Tuesday afternoon to provide an extra warning and make sure no one tried to walk across the bridge, said St. Albans Patrolman J.M. Dent.

"A lot of people have been coming to take pictures," he said.

Dent believes the main thing St. Albans residents will miss is the easy access to Interstate 64.

"Having the option," is what Amy Halstead, of St. Albans, said was her only concern.

Halstead, who works in Kanawha City, drove MacCorkle Avenue to work Monday morning. That afternoon, when she headed home to pick up her daughter for a doctor's appointment, is when the bridge closure almost slipped her mind.

"I almost got on the highway, and then I thought 'oh, no, wait, I have to stay on this side of the river,'" she said.

St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway believes the bridge closure could actually have a positive economic impact.

"It's going to give people an opportunity to rediscover St. Albans, simply because some business went across the bridge when they opened up new facilities over there, and people have forgotten businesses we have here," he said. "Plus, a lot of new businesses have opened up over here."

Kristin Ledford contributed. Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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