BIG CHIMNEY, W.Va. -- In nearly 60 years as a businessman in Big Chimney, Jim Smith has seen three bridges span Coopers Creek in front of his grocery store.
The first one was demolished and replaced after a coal truck struck it in 1956, two years after he opened the store, Smith said.
On Thursday, West Virginia Department of Transportation officials opened the third bridge, eight months after construction started to replace the previous bridge, which had deteriorated, Smith said.
"The other bridge was inadequate," Smith said. "This is like getting a jet airplane."
Workers from Orders Construction started the replacement work on the $2 million bridge in September 2012. During that time, a temporary bridge was set up on Smith's property for northbound traffic. Southbound traffic was rerouted to another bridge.
Smith is the owner of the Food Fair and hardware store, Hardee's restaurant and a Rite-Aid, among other businesses.
"It has affected business because of the congestion," Smith said. "But now we want people to see [the new bridge], drive across it and use it, and I'm sure they'll appreciate what the state of West Virginia has done."
To commemorate the opening of the new bridge, Smith and Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox drove Smith's red 1954 Chevy pickup across the bridge.
Division of Highways officials decided that the old bridge needed replaced during routine inspections last year, Mattox said. Its exterior steel beams had corroded.
To speed up the construction process, the design and building of the bridge were accomplished concurrently, Mattox said. By doing so, the state was able to shave about eight months off the time it typically takes to build a bridge, Mattox said.
"We started late last summer," he said, "and here it is April, and we've got a bridge."
Smith said the bridge is important to the town. People cross it to get to Yeager Airport, to Capital High School and the state Capitol, he said. Smith believes the new bridge will be safer for residents.
"It's a good bridge," he said. "I think it will last for years and years to come."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.