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Nitro, St. Albans ready for bridge to close

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the state Department of Transportation gears up for the second phase of construction on the Nitro-St. Albans Bridge, residents and businesses in the sister cities are preparing for a major inconvenience.

The Richard "Dick" Henderson Memorial Bridge will close Jan. 7 as workers begin to demolish the old bridge and put a new one on the existing piers. The span is not expected to reopen until November.

Patrice Banker, co-owner of Valley Cash Feed Store on Main Avenue in Nitro, is very concerned her business will drop after the bridge closes.

Her father opened the store 58 years ago and Banker said the last time the bridge closed in the late 1970s, business was greatly affected. Valley Cash is located only a few hundred yards from the bridge's Nitro entrance.

"A lot of our customers are from St. Albans and are elderly, so they're afraid to drive around," she said.

Banker said the store is considering opening a satellite location in St. Albans while the bridge is closed. She looked at a few locations so far, but has not found one that meets her business's needs.

She said a satellite location would need to have a short-term lease, since the store only would be temporary, and would need to have lots of outside space, since Valley Cash often uses forklifts to move its larger, heavier items.

Banker said she also is still trying to determine if a satellite store would make business sense, since she would have to pay business and occupation taxes in both St. Albans and Nitro, and likely would have to hire temporary workers to man the new store

If the satellite store does not work out, Banker said Valley Cash might just establish a delivery day for its St. Albans customers.

"We would just take orders and take it over," she said. "As long as the bridge is out we want to make it easy for them. We care about our customers. We want to do the right thing."

Huntington Bank, which has a location in Nitro, also will open a temporary branch in St. Albans after the bridge closes.

The temporary St. Albans branch will open Jan. 7 at 74 Olde Main Plaza, next to Shuckers restaurant and across the street from the Albans Arts Conference Center. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The branch will not be open on Saturday.

Last week, workers were installing phone lines, computers and a security system in the building. The branch will accommodate two tellers and a manager.

"Huntington believes in 'doing the right thing' for our customers by opening a temporary branch in St. Albans," Bill Eiler, spokesman for the bank, said in an email last week. "We want to continue to provide our customers with the convenience and exemplary service to which they're accustomed."

Rich Harper, owner of John's Cyclery in St. Albans, is not worried about his business once the bridge closes. Harper said he gets a lot of business from the Charleston area and Putnam County, and the closest bicycle shop is in Kanawha City.

"We're a destination store. If you have something people want, they'll find a way to get to you," he said. "I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal."

While some residents are taking the bridge closure in stride - Steve Clay of St. Albans said it's the "price of progress," - others are not so laid back.

"It's going to be a hell of an inconvenience," said Randy Wheeler, 55, of Nitro.

Wheeler, who works at C&O Motors in St. Albans, can see the car dealership from his backyard. With the bridge open, his commute takes less than five minutes.

The drive will get significantly longer once the bridge closes because he will either have to drive to Dunbar and cross the Dunbar-South Charleston bridge to reach MacCorkle Avenue, or drive through Nitro to reach Interstate 64.

"It adds about 25 minutes if I go to Dunbar, but they have wrecks (on the interstate) every day," he said.

Wheeler said although the bridge closure will be inconvenient, he knows the transportation department is "doing what they need to do."

"It's trash. Go underneath of it. You can see the rust," he said.

Don Kereston, who lives on Sattes Circle in Nitro, holds a similar view.

"It's an inconvenience that I think needs done. We'll just have to grit our teeth and bear it," he said.

Kereston, 66, is a manager for Snyder's of Berlin, and splits his time between the potato chip company's offices in Ashland and Cross Lanes. The bridge closure will not affect his commute - he usually just drives through Nitro to pick up Interstate 64 - but Kereston said he and his wife usually drive into St. Albans to buy groceries and run other errands

He said they will just have to switch to stores on their side of the Kanawha River.

"What are you going to do?" he said. "It's not like they just told us yesterday."

Plans to replace the bridge were finalized last February, and work underneath the bridge has been under way since March. Most of that work has taken place below the water line as construction crews strengthened the bridge's current piers so they can support the new three-land deck that will be constructed this year.

As part of the $24 million project, the current bridge will be demolished and a new bridge will then be floated down the river and set on the newly reinforced piers.

The Nitro-St. Albans Bridge was opened in 1934, and has been concerned transportation officials for some time. In 2008 the weight limit was reduced from 14 to 12 tons, meaning KRT buses and some commercial vehicles could no longer use the span.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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