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New Nitro-St. Albans bridge opens Friday

NITRO, W.Va. -- Ellen Fink and her daughter leaned against the railing in the middle of the new Nitro-St. Albans bridge. 

"We wanted to get to the highest point," said the elder Fink, 35, of St. Albans.

For about two hours Thursday evening people were allowed to walk across the bridge for the first time before it opens to traffic Friday.

"One day she'll be able to tell her grandchildren that she walked on the bridge before it opened," Fink said, looking at her daughter, 13-year-old Emily.

More than one thousand people took advantage of the opportunity to walk across the new structure, officially known as the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge, which connects the two cities over the Kanawha River.

The old Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge was built in 1934. It was deteriorating and a longtime safety concern.

"Everybody was scared of the old bridge," said Nancy Hancart, 56, of Nitro. "I remember standing on it and feeling the shaking."

The new structure has three lanes, 6-foot-wide shoulders and 5-foot-wide sidewalks. Kevin Hancart, 58, of Nitro, said he appreciates that each of the bridge's entry points feature three lanes: two for oncoming traffic and one for exiting traffic.

"That's really going to help congestion," he said.

During the closure, motorists were forced to go at least nine miles out of the way to make it to the other side of the river. Many people who were out walking Thursday talked about how they lived in Nitro and banked in St. Albans or lived in St. Albans and worked in Cross Lanes.

"Mercy, nobody can be anymore glad than me to have it back open," said Wanda Cyrus, 75, as she climbed the incline on the Nitro side to make her way back to St. Albans, where she lives. "I didn't know if I could make it, but I'm doing alright. It's higher than the last one," said Cyrus, who took a break to snap a photograph of the others making their way across.

"It's been a long 10 months," said Melody McCormick, who owns "Castaways" bar and grill in Nitro. "This is a big deal for us."

McCormick is holding a "Welcome Back 25177" party on Friday (St. Albans' zip code).  "We had a lot of customers from there," she said.

Many business owners stood on both sides of the bridge handing out coupons and reminding people of their services.

"It's been tough. Kroger depends a lot on its Nitro customers and Rio Grande depends a lot on St. Albans," said St. Albans Police Capt. James Agee, as he stood at the top of the Nitro side of the bridge.

"You're on the wrong side," said one woman passing by who nudged him and laughed.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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