NITRO, W.Va. — There was plenty of traffic crossing the new Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge on Thursday night, but most of it was on foot.
Thousands of area residents walked the bridge in advance of Friday’s official opening, when the first vehicles will be allowed to cross.
“I love it,” said St. Albans native Cathryn Blevins. “I love the openness, and I’m glad they let us come across the bridge first to see it first-hand before all the traffic and everything started. It’s wonderful.”
Blevins and her husband drove from their current home in Williamsburg, Va., to be among the first ones to walk the bridge.
“Both my mother and father were on the bridge when the original bridge was built, and I wanted to be here for the new opening of the bridge for that reason,” she said.
The majority of people walking across the bridge were mainly excited to once again have a direct route connecting Nitro to St. Albans.
“Anyone on either side of the river is going to be excited because now people that want to go to Rio and eat that live in St. Albans, it’s convenient,” said Nitro resident Larry Dye. “If we want to go over and get some fish in St. Albans, it’s convenient.”
For the roughly ten months that the bridge was actually closed due to construction, people wanting to cross over to either Nitro or St. Albans had to go to the interstate or to Dunbar, roughly a nine mile detour.
“This has been needed for years and finally to see it come to fruition is just been fantastic,” said Dye. “I have to cross it often so I am happy about it.”
This new three-lane bridge replaces the narrow old structure that featured two 9-foot-wide lanes and a sidewalk between trusses. Dye said the old bridge was very tight.
“You were always concerned about somebody crossing the center line, always,” he said. “Here, I don’t think you are going to have that now. I think it’s going to be a lot safer.”
The new bridge has three 12-foot-wide lanes and a turning lane on each end. It also has 6-foot-wide shoulders and 5-foot-wide sidewalks.
“We’ve gone from a Volkswagen to a Cadillac,” said former Nitro Mayor Rusty Casto. “This is a nice one.”
The bridge will officially be opened to traffic Friday afternoon following a ribbon cutting ceremony at the top of the new structure, almost three weeks ahead of schedule.
“I worked construction and we have been watching a couple of other construction jobs that have had extended periods of construction and they’re still not finished,” said Dye. “These people did tremendous.”
Friday’s ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m., with many state and local officials expected to attend and bands from Nitro and St. Albans high schools scheduled to perform.