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Motorists will travel across new I-64 bridge this weekend

Travelers on Interstate 64 East will get their first chance to drive on the highway's brand-new bridge between Dunbar and South Charleston this weekend.

Starting Saturday, the new structure will function as an exit ramp for eastbound motorists exiting the interstate onto MacCorkle Avenue in South Charleston. Drivers coming from Dunbar will simply veer right onto the new structure.

Brent Walker, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the department typically likes to open bridges all at once; however, officials decided to open this new bridge as an exit to allow work to continue on unfinished parts of the bridge.

The $93 million structure isn't slated to open fully until October. Walker said the transportation department would hold a formal grand opening then.

"It was necessary for us to continue work on the bridge," he said. "This is just simply an exit ramp."

Only the center lane of the bridge will open to traffic Saturday. The rest will remain closed as workers finish construction tying the bridge back into I-64 East, clean and paint the structure, install more light poles and set up traffic signs.

"This area will still be a work zone," Walker said. "It's really important while you're in a work zone to maintain the posted speed limit, or even five miles less."

For now, the speed limit on the bridge is 40 mph.

Project supervisor John Buchanan said the transportation department would put out digital message boards and signs to help drivers navigate the new traffic pattern. The permanent highway message boards at Teays Valley and Cross Lanes also will notify drivers of the changes and a police officer will stay at the bridge for a couple days, Buchanan said.

Walker said he expects some motorists to use the exit ramp this weekend just to enjoy the new bridge.

Once completed, the bridge will carry six through lanes and two auxiliary lanes between W.Va. 25 in Dunbar and U.S. 60 at South Charleston. The new bridge will accommodate eastbound traffic while the existing bridge handles westbound travelers.

The bridge is the longest concrete box girder span in North America, measuring 2,950 feet. The structure is actually made up of eight smaller spans.

"For the short term, it will be the longest exit ramp," Walker joked.

Walker says the transportation department picked the concrete box girder system because a bridge made of steel would have cost $30 million more.

The structure is the first bridge in West Virginia to use the system with pre-stressed concrete. The pre-stressed concrete, much stronger than regular concrete, is further strengthened with rebar and steel tendons.

It's also unlike other bridges because it doesn't have a support beam in the river, under its center. Instead, it uses a balanced cantilever system. Each cantilever, a beam supported on only one side, is counterbalanced with another cantilever arm projecting in the opposite direction.

Every bridge in West Virginia is inspected every two years. Project engineer Ahmed Mongi said the tunnel inside the bridge will allow inspectors to check for cracks and other structural problems.

He said the area also would allow crews to add more support to the bridge in the future.

Work on the bridge started in June 2007, with span construction starting a year later. Workers completed the main 760-foot span last year.

Mongi said construction has gone well on the bridge, especially considering crews started on opposite sides of the Kanawha River. He said some bridge projects have wound up several feet out of alignment when the structures finally met in the middle, but the new I-64 bridge was only a couple inches off.

"We were very fortunate," he said.

Buchanan says crews will begin work on the old bridge this fall once the new eastbound bridge is open.

He said two lanes will stay open at all times, but crews will work to repair the old structure's surface. Work on the old bridge should be complete by December of next year, he said.

Highway officials say the current bridge carries an average of 78,000 vehicles a day and 15 percent are trucks.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com.


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