By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Temporary stoplights have been removed, and traffic is flowing without delay now as motorists cross the “new” bridge that carries US Route 19 across the West Fork River at the north end of Shinnston. Temporary striping has been done, although there are still a few things that need to be accomplished before the bridge is a total done deal.
Steve Toothman, the project superintendent for Triton, the general contractor for the new bridge construction, noted, “The old bridge has been completely blocked off now but there are still some sidewalk and curb completions that will need to be taken care of in front of the old bridge. JF Allen will finish the final layer of paving on the new bridge on the 10th, 11th and 12th of September, but flaggers will direct traffic and keep it moving during those days. This final paving layer will take care of the bumps that now exist and it should be smooth ride from that point going forward.”
Triton Construction (Nitro, WV) had until November 14th to have the new bridge open to traffic, and even with the few ‘kinks’ that remain to be worked out, the bridge should be substantially complete by the end of September or the first week of October.
Toothman stated that demolition of the old bridge is slated to begin this week, with railings and concrete to be removed first. “Demo should take three to four weeks,” he said. “Obviously, bridges come down much more quickly than they go up!”
Building this new bridge has been a given for many years. And the construction necessitated property purchases to allow the new bridge to come in at close proximity to the existing bridge … but to angle differently. The corner property that was purchased had been owned by the Maley family since the late 1940’s. Maley’s Used Cars occupied the corner lot and behind it was property owned by Glenn Rife that was used for equipment storage. Rife also had to let go of some property he owned under the bridge, a portion of his old high school property, and a fraction of the corner of the pharmacy property on Pike Street.
“I’ve lost count of the number of times that utility poles were torn out through the years by large trucks that had issues making that turn at the end of the old bridge,” Rife said. “The new approach to the downtown area facilitated by the new bridge will eliminate those larger vehicles having trouble making that 90-degree turn at the end of the bridge, so it will be safer.”
A couple of projects were already scheduled, so construction of Shinnston’s new bridge was postponed until those projects were completed; then that corner property was sold to the state and work began in February of 2013.
Toothman added, “I’ve spent two winters here, which means this project has been ongoing for a year and a half, but it has been a great project to work on and one that I am very proud of. According to engineers, the new bridge will have an even better lifespan than the old one.”
The new bridge also features turning lanes. “In other words,” Toothman explained, “if you’re going to the Wyatt area, for instance, you can get into the turning lane and the flow of traffic moving north will not be affected. The same will apply if you are going in the opposite direction and plan to turn up Clement Street.”
Passersby will also notice a change at the Clay District Veterans Memorial. A parking area in front of the Memorial will accommodate four vehicles. “This is mostly a convenience for veterans who are handicapped, allowing them easier access by parking closer to the Memorial,” Toothman added.
The 572-foot bridge was estimated to cost a little over $6 million. Barricades were put in place, officially closing the old bridge, and the new bridge opened simultaneously at 1 p.m. last Friday, August 29th. Approximately 8,500 vehicles cross this bridge daily.