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Kanawha bridge closes ahead of dismantling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Residents hoping to see the now-closed bridge between Nitro and St. Albans go out with a bang are set for a letdown.

The Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge, which carries traffic between the two cities over the Kanawha River, officially closed Monday. Demolition crews will now prepare to raze the 78-year-old span.

But witnesses of the demolition won't get to hear an explosive bang, feel the concussion against their chests, nor see sections of steel plummeting to the waterway below.

Instead, over the next three months they will witness the less exciting process of crews methodically dismembering the structure piece by piece.

"It's just going to be steel coming down slowly," said Carrie Bly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.

Bly said the department had braced itself for a deluge of complaints about the closing from detoured motorists, but few were heard from on Monday.  

She said most people understand the bridge is old and needs to be replaced. But others have complained upon learning the bridge will not come down in a blaze of glory.

"I think a lot of people are disappointed that it's not going to be some kind of awesome display of a bridge coming down into the river and go out in some kind of grand, spectacular show," Bly said.

Workers with Kokosing Construction on Monday began phase two of the two-year, $23.6 million project to replace the current bridge with a three-lane span.

Workers spent the past nine months strengthening and improving the current bridge's piers so they can support the wider replacement.

Because the new bridge, with a 5-foot-wide sidewalk and middle turning lane, will be supported by the existing piers, engineers decided not to use explosives to bring it down.

Instead, workers will use saws to cut apart chunks of the bridge deck and steel and haul it away bit by bit.  

Two teams of workers will start at either end of the bridge and begin to dismantle it, Bly said.

"We will cut the deck into pieces, then bring in excavators to remove the slabs and then haul them away by truck," she said.

She said that work is likely to take the entire month. Passersby won't see much change until demolition work transitions to the steel superstructure next month.

Bly said that's when the public will start to see the viewscape slowly transformed.

"The most visual part is going to be when the truss goes down, because the new bridge is not going to have that so it's not going to be a part of the skyline anymore," Bly said.

"You're going to be able to see piece by piece that part coming down," she said.

That part of the project is expected to last about two months and will involve a series of cranes and barges that will both stabilize the remaining superstructure and remove its steel safely.

"We are going to have the cranes holding it; then you'll cut the steel and then it'll go down into the barge," Bly said.

Bly said the project should not hamper river traffic except for the few days when work is done on the middle section of the bridge.  

"There would be that three days where we'd need to shut it down," she said. "The reason is because of the clearance issues - we couldn't be working and have river traffic below."

Officials have been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and shipping officials to provide ample notice of the closures.

Bly said they do not believe the project will be a substantial hindrance to river commerce.

Once the steel is removed, a barge will carry the removed steel to a Kokosing-owned equipment yard.

What happens to the material from there will be up to the company.

Bly said disposal of the steel was included in the original bid package for the project. Whether it's disposed of, recycled or sold will be up to Kokosing.

"It will be up to the contractor to determine its final resting place," she said.

While the demolition won't be the grand display some were hoping for, transportation officials do plan to document it.

The project now has its own section on the Department of Transportation's website, Officials plan to post videos and pictures to that page, as well as the department's Facebook and Twitter pages, as work progresses.  

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.



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