Nitro, St. Albans celebrate bridge opening
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.
Her mother-in-law, Nitro resident Carolyn Wilborne, said she's also seen the extra traffic and knew the issues her daughter-in-law faces further east.
"Most definitely yes," she said when asked about the inconvenience of not having a bridge. "The traffic has been horrendous."
But, Wilborne said she was happy the new bridge will be open again, and said she likes the design of the span.
"We are very, very happy," she said. "The bridge is beautiful."
For others, the bridge allows residents on both sides to easily visit restaurants and businesses on the other side of the river. The span's closure has had a negative effect on businesses on both sides of the river.
"I think that's been the biggest thing," said St. Albans resident Mike Thomas, referring to the inability to easily visit venues on the Nitro side.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. today. Speakers will include St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway, Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and state Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox, a Nitro native.
The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will happen in the middle of the bridge. Two hundred seats for the public will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, though standing room is available also.
Once the ceremony is over and cleaned up, the bridge will open to traffic, reuniting the two cities.
Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.