Chesapeake bridge to remain open

Published 3:26 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Mike Xipolitas, manager of KMX Painting, standing, addresses the Chesapeake Village Council on Monday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

Contractor cancels plans for full closure after hearing from community

CHESAPEAKE — A packed house from throughout the village and across the county made all the difference on Monday.

After hearing concerns about a planned closure of the Robert C. Byrd Bridge connecting the village with Huntington, West Virginia, for a repainting project, the contractor, KMX Painting, of Youngstown, agreed to maintain the current level of lane closures and keep the bridge open to traffic for the duration of the project, which will extend into next year.

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KMX had originally planned to close the bridge entirely from March 27 through November, detouring traffic the Proctorville bridge and the Nick Rahall Bridge connecting Huntington and Burlington.

Mayor Drew Griffin said the village was “blindsided” by the news, having not been notified and only learning of it through local TV. 

Griffin spent the portion of the meeting dedicated to the bridge expressing the concerns it would have on businesses and traffic backups.

The council chambers were crowded, filled with local residents and business owners, as well Lawrence County Commissioner Mike Finley, Lawrence County Economic Development president Bill Dingus and Jeff Gaskin, the mayor of the neighboring village of South Point.

Representing  KMX was supervisor Emanuel Koullias and manager Mike Xipolitas, who said the company was contracted by the state of West Virginia, who maintains the bridge.

Xipolitas said safety was the company’s biggest concern in making the plans, stating that workers needed to be able to access the entire structure without traffic going through. He noted that some workers would be doing their jobs above the roadway.

Griffin asked if it was possible to close half the bridge, maintaining one lane in each direction. He noted that there is a concrete barrier separating the north and southbound lanes on the four-lane bridge.

“This is going to be a huge economic impact on our village,” he said. He noted that existing businesses had struggle with COVID-19 closures, as well as a gas line project on Third Avenue, the main street in the village, and said the opening of new businesses would be difficult with the bridge closure.

“Now we turn around and have this,” he said. “I don’t think it’s feasible for people.”

Griffin said that 15,000 vehicles a day come through the intersection on the Chesapeake side of the bridge.

He asked Belinda Evans, manager of the Dollar Tree in the village, how many of her customers come from West Virginia by crossing the bridge.

“60 percent of them have West Virginia plates,” she said.

Other village businesses, such as Pickett’s Concrete, expressed their concern, noting the long route that would be needed for a detour, with the Proctorville bridge not able to handle large trucks.

Xipolitas said the company had done a study and decided the two bridges would work for a detour. 

However, after hearing concerns expressed by Griffin and the crowd, Koullias agreed to the mayor’s request to keep the bridge open throughout the project, which the company said will now need additional time to complete.

“It will stay the way it is,” he said of the existing lane closures.

Griffin thanked them for the cooperation and said the village would remain in contact with them. He discussed adding a speed bump to slow traffic coming onto the bridge, as well as stationing a police officer at the intersection.

Finley congratulated Griffin for making the case to the company.

“It wasn’t just me,” he said. “It was all of you being here.”

Gaskin said the impact would not have been just to Chesapeake, “but the county,” to which Finley echoed as he was exiting the meeting.

“It would have been a disaster for Lawrence County,” he said.

Xipolitas said his company understood the concerns and knows that construction projects bring “an inconvenience.”

“Every 20 or 30 years, you have to paint a bridge,” he said. “So you won’t have to deal with this again.”