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Bridging the Ohio River

Bridges spanning the Ohio River put the tri into the Tri-State.

Right now, many of these vital spans are aging and under repair, but the future may be a little smoother.

Proctorville residents familiar with the hustle and bustle of traffic from Huntington will find the East Huntington Bridge a very lonely place during workdays for the next two weeks.

Until March 19, the East Huntington Bridge, will be closed to traffic between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. During these closures, the West Virginia Division of Highways will repair and inspect the cables that support the bridge.

Those who would normally use the bridge which connects Proctorville with 29th Street in Huntington should reroute to the West 17th Street Bridge, or the Robert C. Byrd Bridge near Huntington's downtown 5th Street.

Lawrence Browning lives nearby but works in Huntington, and he said that the bridge closure has caused him some problems, though he understands the necessity of bridge upkeep.

"It has been a little inconvenient," Browning said. "It means a lot of extra driving. I think it's definitely going to make things better eventually, though. It can't make them any worse."

In accordance with federal mandate, almost all bridges have to be inspected every two years, but according to Raymond Byrd with the W.Va. Division of Highways, the East Huntington Bridge gets this treatment every year, due to its unique cable-suspended design.

Byrd said he fully expected to have the inspections and repairs completed by Saturday, March 19.

Down river

Forty-five miles away, Portsmouth is doing some bridgework of its own, albeit on a much grander scale. The new U.S. Grant Bridge, which will once again connect South Shore, Ky. with Portsmouth, is finally seeing some major headway, after a string of delays and problems.

"Following numerous discussions and contract negotiations, we are beginning to see more progress at the U.S. Grant Bridge," Ohio Department of Transportation District 9 Deputy Director Harry Fry said in a written release.

"The contractors have been working weekends, bringing additional crews and more equipment to the site, and we have outlined a schedule that establishes a series of milestones for this project."

Much like the Tri-State Metro Outer Belt, work on the bridge has been slowed partly due to the excessively wet weather that has plagued southern Ohio for the past two years.

Progress on the bridge is good news for Lawrence County residents who have had to forgo zipping through Kentucky and cutting back into Portsmouth across the bridge as a shortcut when heading north to Columbus.

Though a firm opening date has not been set, ODOT is currently aiming for sometime in Fall 2006. Upon its completion, the new U.S. Grant Bridge will be the first cable-stayed bridge in the state of Ohio.

On the horizon

No bridge conversation would be complete without discussing plans for a new Ironton-Russell Bridge, which will connect the intersection of Second and Jefferson streets in Ironton to the intersection of Kentucky 244 and U.S. 23 in Russell.

The 2,500-foot bridge, which will be suspended 500 feet above the river, will be yet another of the cable-stayed bridges seem to be sweeping the region. However, the Ironton-Russell Bridge will feature one large tower as compared to the two towers which will help support Portsmouth's span.

A contractor should be chosen late this year with construction beginning in Spring 2006, with a three-year construction period to follow, according to Kathleen Fuller, ODOT District 9 Public Information Officer. The old Ironton-Russell Bridge will be demolished in the following year.

Both the Portsmouth and Ironton bridges should provide a smoother ride for motorists and prove to be more aesthetically pleasing than their older counterparts, but that's only half the story, said Fuller.

"There are some added benefits on eminence with new bridge construction," Fuller said, "Lighter lanes, we'll be able to get inside of the towers to take care of lighting eminence issues. It should provide a safer, and more secure environment for doing inspection and eminence work once we have the bridges constructed."

Throughout Lawrence County, residents may be experiencing some extended waits now, but they can bide their time dreaming of the day when they'll be enjoying a smoother, less-congested ride thanks to the new - and newly renovated - bridges spanning the mighty Ohio.