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On my way to work a few days ago, I was passing the site where the new Grant Street Bridge is taking shape. The day was sunny so construction was underway. I stopped and managed to snap some photos with my cellphone before going to the newsroom. One of those photos appeared on our next edition's front page.

A lot of work and lobbying has gone into getting a new bridge ever since an inspection revealed that the last one was unsafe. The saga brought to mind my dad's career at the West Virginia Department of Highways and what I learned along the way. One of the chief things I learned is that building a highway or a bridge is a lot more complicated and expensive than many people suppose.

My dad Alan Jordan, known as Al at the DOH, was one of the department's chief design engineers when he retired. He was a born problem solver and great at math, and his career began about the time the state started constructing the West Virginia Turnpike and other highways now crisscrossing the state. He retired about the time when the last of them were finished.

I would call dad when I had a story involving construction or anything highway related. I didn't inherit his math skills or mind for construction, so he could help me understand some issues.

One time a family in Tazewell County, Va. talked to me about putting a new road up to a small group of houses that were linked to the outside world by one-lane road that was, I've got to admit, pretty narrow. One of the residents said that a bulldozer could plow a path up a hillside without any trouble, then some asphalt could be poured. He seemed to think building a short road would be quick and easy.

Well, I knew better. I called dad that evening and explained the situation.

He told me those folks were wanting a project that would cost at least a million dollars. That wasn't the first time he had encountered people who had unrealistic expectations when it comes to construction. His colleagues at the department had their share of horror stories, too.

One of his coworkers had to deal with a man who wanted the road to his house paved. I think it was technically a state road, but it wasn't a priority. Well, this fellow kept demanding that his road, which led only to his house, be paved. One day, dad's friend just got exasperated and finally managed to have the road paved. He figured that was the end of the saga.

About a year later, that man was back at the DOH.

"I want my road paved!" he declared.

"We paved that road!" my dad's friend told him.

"Well, they did. And they did a good job," the man replied.

"Then what's the problem?" 

"Well, I've moved."

Dad also told me about one of his own experiences. A businessman wanted to state to build a road up to some strip mine land he wanted to turn into an industrial park, but there was a problem. About half the mountainside would have to be blasted and hauled away in order to reach the site, leaving little space for the industrial park.

This man was from another country and didn't speak English very fluently. He stared at dad and asked, "You highway engineer?"

"Yes," dad replied.

"Build road!"

Any project relating to roads or highways is always going to be very involved and very expensive. It's also going to be very time consuming. Years of work, both design and financing, go into any project before the first shovelful of dirt is moved. I know that's frustrating in an age when people expect events to start moving on command and move quickly. 

The Grant Street Bridge project is moving right along. The span is in place and I've seen work underway every time the weather is favorable, so I expect a ribbon cutting ceremony to be announced in the coming months. The process was long and time consuming, but all the lobbying, designing and effort will pay off in the near future.

Contact Greg Jordan at

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