Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 16, 2012

W.Va. a land of bridges


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Many Bluefield residents agree that rezoning College Avenue is a good idea. Many of us have observed the decline in that particular part of town. The issue should have been addressed years ago before the horse got out of the barn.

The rezoning should also include Albemarle and Augusta Streets. It isn’t only College Avenue that has problems. The adjacent streets also need to be protected. College Avenue was once the heart of the residential area with pristine homes lining both sides of the street. Many homes are still well maintained, but some are not. The Bluefield Planning Commission has taken its first step in the right direction.

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Driving through the Four Seasons area I have noticed that the holiday decorations in many of our local towns are exceptionally nice this year. The old-fashioned street lamps in downtown Bluefield, Welch and Bramwell are beautifully adorned. In other areas many homes feature some really nice holiday lights and scenes. One particular favorite of mine is a large locomotive complete with Santa at the throttle at a home in Pageton.

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Gov. Earl Ray Tombin’s recent column concerning the Dec. 15, 1967, collapse of the Silver Bridge during the evening rush hour across the Ohio River between Point Pleasant and Gallipolis caused me to reflect upon the disaster. I was in school in Montgomery when the tragedy occurred. The news swept the campus at West Virginia Tech quickly.

My friend Kenneth Patrick suggested that we drive up to Point Pleasant to see the carnage. Bad idea — the entire perimeter was cordoned off and we could get near the bridge. Forty-six people died. Tomblin said, “Still, 45 years later, this disaster marks one of the darkest days in our state’s history. It’s a catastrophe whose sting is as fresh as the day it happened for many.”

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The collapse of the Silver Bridge caused the then State Road Commission, predecessor of today’s West Virginia Division of Highways, to rethink its bridge inspection program. In the early days the State Road Commission had one bridge inspector in each district. That person often had no formal bridge inspection training or engineering experience.

The commission shortly afterward assigned people with their district construction divisions to begin inspecting the roadway system bridges. Many deficiencies were discovered and repairs or replacement projects initiated. The first formal organization of a District Ten Bridge Department for the task of properly evaluating bridges from an engineering viewpoint began with the hiring of the late Lt. Col. Dan Cardea from Welch, who served in the Air National Guard. Cardea held a degree in mechanical engineer and was well suited to organizing the new unit. 

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The West Virginia Division of Highways is responsible for 36,000 miles of state-maintained highways that include 6,636 bridges. That figure does not include 238 railroad bridges, 117 city and county bridges, 99 West Virginia Turnpike bridges, 20 state park bridges, two private toll bridges and 132 other non-highway bridges. While we may be called the Mountain State, West Virginia is the land of bridges.

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Today’s state DOH bridge departments (there are 10 of them, one in each of the state’s 10 districts) keep detailed records for all bridges over 20 feet in length, monitor those bridges methodically and analyze every structural member of each bridge. The goal is to see that these bridges are safe to cross and are properly rated to accommodate traffic. Those with deficiencies are posted and ultimately scheduled for replacement on a priority basis. Tim Powell serves as the District 10 Bridge Engineer. Powell and his staff have a very important job to do.

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There you have it, a few comments on items of interest to the area. I do hope you have a wonderful blue sky day.

Wilson Butt, a resident of Bluefield, is a retired Department of Highways official.