By C.V. Moore
A recent decision by the West Virginia Department of Transportation to limit closures of the Kanawha Falls Bridge to two summers may take some of the sting out of long detours for local residents.
During a public scoping process for the project, some locals voiced concerns over a potential closing, especially its effect on school transportation.
“We will have to close it for some time for the rehab work, but we will not do that when school is in session,” says Carrie Bly, spokeswoman for the state agency.
The DOT has decided to rehabilitate the bridge in its existing location, rather than do a total replacement. This has been the agency’s preferred option throughout the decision-making process.
The project will cost $10.8 million, according to Bly.
The project will be bid out in 2013 and the closures will take place during the summers of 2014 and 2015. Other work on the bridge can be done without shutting it down, and that will be ongoing.
Currently, the project is in the environmental review process, but Bly does not anticipate any snags in that arena. One reason for the agency’s preference of rehabilitation was the relatively low impact of such a project on endangered species.
They say this option also preserves the historic bridge.
Built in 1928, Kanawha Falls Bridge is the oldest remaining bridge for cars over the Kanawha River, according to bridgemapper.com, and formerly operated as a toll bridge. Purchased by the state in 1977, it was most recently renovated in 1999.
It connects the communities of Boonsborough and Kanawha Falls to their cross-river neighbors along U.S. 60. About 450 people drive across its four spans each day.
For two summers, residents from these communities who want to travel east on U.S. 60 toward Fayetteville will be forced to take an 18-mile detour down W.Va. 61 and cross the river in Montgomery before heading back upstream.
A 30-ton weight limit means that only one truck can currently cross the two-lane bridge at any given time.
A rumor that the bridge is being repaired in order to provide a route for coal trucks hauling from nearby mines owned by Frasure Creek is unfounded, says Bly.
“It wasn’t done for a specific company,” she says. “It’s being done because the bridge isn’t meeting standards. We do not like to have any weight limit on bridges.”
Other alternatives considered by the DOT included building an entirely new bridge at one of several nearby locations. The agency says doing nothing about the state of the bridge is not an option.
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