By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
As Division of Highways crews begin planning a $6 million bridge replacement project, city leaders are looking into ways to effectively coordinate traffic and emergency services during the construction period.
City Manager Jim Ferguson said inspectors with the West Virginia Division of Highways determined the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge has to be completely replaced. According to the DOH, the bridge was originally constructed in 1966 to replace another bridge in the same location.
“The bridge used to belong the railroad, but there was an agreement where the city took ownership of the bridge,” Ferguson said. “The DOH surveyed the bridge and thought there were some repairs that needed to be done. The bridge had some issues and needed some rehabilitation. After they did their preliminary review, the DOH decided the entire structure needed to be replaced for safety.”
As part of the plan, Ferguson said the bridge would be raised to a final height of 23 feet, 6 inches to allow for double-decker trains.
Norfolk Southern contributed $200,000 of the original $300,000 the city pledged to pay for the bridge reconstruction. However, Ferguson said the bulk of the money will be coming from federal stimulus dollars awarded to the state.
“This is mostly being funded through federal money from the stimulus with a little city money,” he said. “The West Virginia DOH is helping as well. Of course, 80 percent of the project will be funded by federal money. The original estimate was around $1.6 million and the city was only responsible for 20 percent or $300,000. The price tag was then changed to $6 million due to utility issues and other issues they found. We are looking in to see exactly how much the city is going to end up paying.”
Ferguson said the DOH will oversee construction but the city has to look into other concerns, such as utilities impacted by the reconstruction of the bridge.
“The DOH is taking the helm on construction, but we will be there to monitor the process and coordinate detours,” Ferguson said. “The pillars will be eliminated and the bridge will be bonded at the ends. The plan is to take out the current bridge and built a whole new bridge. All the time frame I have been given at this point is that there will be a final plan and design to be completed by the end of summer, then they will bid the project out in the fall. Construction should start in the spring of 2014.”
Ferguson said several utilities will be impacted by the construction.
“There are a lot more utilities involved than you might think,” he said. “There is a lot of electrical involved since there are street lights on the bridge that will have to be removed. A large electric grid is in that area as well as stormwater. A lot of the utility companies have come out to do assessments for the project.”
Ferguson said one of the main concerns for the city will be traffic flow during the construction period.
“Traffic is one concern for the city,” Ferguson said. “There will have to be detours and we will have to determine what is the best route to take for people going to that area. We will have to see how it will impact Bluefield State College as well as the citizens who live directly behind or near that bridge. I believe that is one of the groups it will most impact. There is also at least one business that deals with mining equipment on that side as well. They go in and out with trucks and heavy machinery on the bridge, so we will need to address their needs. We will be keeping the public informed of what is happening and holding public hearings.”
Emergency traffic is of particular concern for the city, Ferguson said.
“We will also have to plan with our emergency responders as they won’t have access right over the bridge,” Ferguson said. “We will be talking to our fire, EMS and police departments about those issues. There are multiple homes and residences that are in that area they need to be able to reach in the case of an emergency, so we will have to come up with alternate plans for them.”
Ferguson said the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge is one of the most heavily traveled bridges in Bluefield.
“Of any bridge in the city, this bridge is central and has the highest traffic of any bridge other than the Frank Easley Bridge over Route 52,” he said. “We will be working with the citizens to accommodate them as best we can as far as getting them to homes, businesses and the college. We have a year to figure this out, so we have time. I am certain we will be able to work with everyone the best we can.”
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org