Thousands of people packed the new Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge between Nitro and St. Albans on Thursday night before the bridge opening today.
The state Department of Transportation opened the bridge to pedestrians to allow the public to get a close-up view of the finished span. The Nitro Antique Club hosted a "trunk or treat" at antique vehicles parked along the bridge, and historical societies in both Nitro and St. Albans had information tables with souvenir programs and Christmas ornaments for sale.
Later this afternoon, residents on both sides of the Kanawha will once again have a direct connection to one another for the first time in 10 months.
In January, the old Dick Henderson Bridge was closed and demolished for replacement. The 80-year-old span was narrow and could no longer handle heavy loads, including KRT buses. A replacement span has been in the works for http://www.dailymail.com/News/Kanawha/201011181259">several years.
Residents walking the bridge Thursday evening expressed overwhelming relief that the span will be open again. Many had friends and relatives just across the bridge.
"My mother-in-law lives right across the bridge, so it's going to be a huge help," said St. Albans resident Crystal Jones, pointing to a group of homes on the Nitro side of the Kanawha. "A five-minute trip turned into a 20 minute trip."
Nitro resident Christina McNealy also had a similar situation -- her father lives in St. Albans.
"It's been tough," she said.
Others didn't need to use the bridge as part of their commute, but were nonetheless affected by the additional traffic the closure placed on nearby spans. The closest two highway bridges spanning the Kanawha are the Interstate 64 bridge downriver and the Dunbar Toll Bridge upriver.
Alex Wilborne, who lives in South Charleston, said the additional traffic on the Dunbar Toll Bridge between Dunbar and South Charleston has given her problems getting her kids to school on time.