CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After 10 months of waiting, residents of Nitro and St. Albans will once again be directly connected to one another after officials held a ceremony marking the opening of the bridge Friday.
And while grand opening events feature a ribbon cutting, the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge was opened by a construction worker cutting through a chain with a blowtorch.
"This is one of the largest dedication ceremonies we've ever had," said state Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox, a Nitro native himself. "Today is truly a day to celebrate. I cannot thank you enough for your patience."
The bridge was ready to open to traffic later Friday.
The ribbon cutting (or chain-cutting) ceremony was attended by numerous local and state officials, including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin, all three Kanawha County commissioners, Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt, St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway, and members of city council from both cities.
Hundreds of members of the public also attended the ceremony. Although 200 seats were set up for an audience, the crowd far exceeded that estimate.
"I thought this was a football rally for a minute," Commission President Kent Carper said.
Thursday evening, the public had the opportunity to walk across the bridge before Friday's ceremony, and Department of Transportation Assistant Communication Director Randy Damron estimated 3,500 people attended that event.
"St. Albans and Nitro suddenly have a Bridge Day," he said. "It just reinforces how important this link is for both sides."
High schools in both cities were both represented through a combined band that performed the national anthem and by members of each school's ROTC, which served as the color guard.
The old bridge will live on, too. The new trophy for the annual football rivalry game between St. Albans and Nitro is made from steel from the old span.
But for all the unity between the two towns at today's ceremony, Casebolt and Callaway didn't miss the opportunity to lightheartedly tease one another.
Casebolt said he wanted to "welcome the mayor and the rest of St. Albans back to Nitro."
Callaway responded in his remarks along those same lines.
"It's a safer way to get to Nitro, but more importantly, it's a safer way to get to St. Albans!" he said of the bridge.
But both mayors took a serious tone to discuss the importance the bridge has to each of their communities.