New $6 million Bluefield bridge taking shape

Bluefield Daily Telegraph photo by Mel Grubb
Bluefield Daily Telegraph photo by Mel Grubb

BLUEFIELD —  There was a party on Pulaski Street all afternoon long on Thursday as crews with Triton Construction worked to place the huge steel support beams for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Bridge replacement project.

“I’ve gotten pictures of this project since day one,” Billy Jean Woods, a Pulaski Street resident said. “We have been selling dinners from the First Church to them every day,” she said of First AME Zion Church on Pulaski Street said. “They can’t believe they are getting dinners for $7 a meal. I’ve baked six pies.”

“This is the fun side of the bridge,” Francine Saunders, Woods’ daughter said. “They call me the camera lady because I’ve been here every day taking pictures.”

Francine and her husband, Jimmy Saunders, live a little further west on Pulaski Street at the corner of Pulaski and Barger Street, but the bridge replacement project has been a big part of their lives since the project started in early June.

“When they’re drilling, it sounds like they’re inside the house,” Saunders said. “Jimmy said he likes it because it puts him to sleep, but it keeps me awake. The drilling and the spot lights both make a difference. They’re working 24 hours a day out here, but they’re all good people.”

“I miss Captain D’s,” Woods said.

“She does,” another daughter, Angie Sharp said. “She would cross the street, go to Captain D’s, and stop at Grant’s Supermarket on the way back home.”

“Oh Lord,” Woods. “I miss Captain D’s and Grants.”

“They were ready to start earlier, but there was a four-hour delay until they could get all of the rail traffic stopped on the Norfolk Southern tracks,” Willie Hunt said.

The 125,000 pound beams for the replacement bridge are approximately 165 feet long, but including the truck and trailer, the unit measured 205 feet long, according to Ernie Cardwell, owner of Morgantown Freight in Morgantown, Ky. Cardwell drove the Volvo tractor powered by a 475 horsepower Cummins engine, and Chris Basham, also of Morgantown, Ky., operated the remote steering on the rear section of the trailer. Along with driving truck, Basham is a volunteer firefighter, a paramedic and is in nursing school.

“We hauled all of the steel for the new I-270 bridges in St. Louis,” Cardwell said. “Those were 240-feet long. Chris steers the back end and I steer the front. We brought our super-mechanic — Rick Hunt — along with us too.”

“All of the different colored hard hats on the job means something,” Saunders said.

“The guy wearing the white hat is the foreman,” Woods whispered as a tall gentleman wearing a white hat grabbed a rope to steady a beam as it was lifted off of Cardwell’s truck. Four men on each end of the bridge girders steadied the beams as the crane operator positioned the steel in place.

“We talk to everyone except the man operating the big read thing,” Woods said of the crane operator. “We don’t want to bother him … at all.”

“Six total girders will go across the bridge,” Triton Construction Project Manager Andy Gillenwater said. The girder sections were placed in twos.

The original bridge closed on June 5 to traffic. It was erected in 1966. West Virginia Division of Highways determined that the bridge needed to be replaced due to safety reasons.

The project is being conducted by the West Virginia Department of Highways and Triton Construction. The bridge replacement project is expected to cost $6 million…

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