KEYSER, W.Va. — West Virginia Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox, first lady of West Virginia Joanne Jaeger Tomblin, elected officials from Mineral and Allegany counties, as well as representatives from the Maryland State Highway Administration gathered Wednesday to celebrate the opening of the new Keyser-McCoole Memorial Bridge.
“Like you, Governor (Earl Ray) Tomblin knows this bridge is so much more than just a passageway between Keyser and McCoole,” said Joanne Tomblin.
“This new bridge is also about our future. It’s an economic engine driving Keyser to a more prosperous future.
“With traffic following directly into downtown, city streets will bustle, driving local businesses to fill downtown store fronts, further meeting the needs of the people of this great city. This steel and concrete bridge is also a welcoming, functioning monument that leads the way home.”
In honor of veterans who have served in all wars, a memorial plaque that hung on the old Memorial Bridge will be placed on the new bridge, said Tomblin.
Eight veteran organizations from around the area were in attendance at the ceremony.
“When called upon to protect and defend, the men and women of the great state of West Virginia are first in line,” said Mineral County Commission President Cindy Pyles. “This bridge stands as a monument to those who have served, those who are serving and to those who will serve our country.”
The former bridge, built in 1951, was replaced as part of a $24 million joint project between the West Virginia Division of Highways and the Maryland SHA. The project began in spring 2010.
West Virginia DOH took the lead in funding with SHA funding the remaining 35 percent of the project, according to Mattox.
“A sound transportation system strengthens communities. It provides job opportunities for the residents of a particular area,” said Mattox. “It is something that requires involvement from many parties. This project is a shining example of how two parties should work to achieve a common goal, especially when that goal unites communities.”
The new bridge, which was constructed adjacent to the old bridge, opened to traffic following the ceremony.
Crews will demolish the old bridge and continue work on the roadways that approach the new bridge, a project that should be complete in spring 2013, according to a news release.
“In a matter of months, the old bridge will come down. It will remain only in our memories, in our photos and our history books,” said Keyser Mayor Randy Amtower. “This represents our gateway into the city and this truly is a great day for Keyser.”
A portion of the old Memorial Bridge that crosses state Route 135 will be removed by mid-November, weather permitting, according to Tony Crawford, a district engineer with SHA.
Gladys Calamine was the first person in a non-political or construction role to cross the bridge in a vehicle.
Following the ribbon-cutting, Calamine, 99, also became the first resident to cross the new Keyser-McCoole Bridge.
“The bridge is about our past and our future,” said Tomblin. “Sixty years ago, our parents and grandparents stood very close to this spot and celebrated the opening of the old bridge.”
Also in attendance were other figures who are tied to the history of the old Memorial Bridge.
On hand at the ceremony was Arnold Bailey, 92, a construction worker on the old project and John Fredman, the designer of the original bridge and now the director of the Office of Structures for Maryland SHA.
Project engineers usually handle any issues with construction and if they can’t be handled there, the issues get elevated, said Crawford.
“If they get to my level, it usually means they can’t agree,” said Crawford. “I can actually say I never heard one issue that was raised to my level on this project. That tells you of the great partnership that Maryland and West Virginia had not only with each other but also with the contractor.”
A new ramp from U.S. Route 220 is being added, which will make it easier for trucks to access state Route 135, said Crawford.
A temporary detour was started Wednesday for access between U.S. 220 and state Route 135 on the Maryland side of the bridge, using Crooks Avenue.
Due to construction on the Maryland approach to the bridge, access to West Chesapeake Avenue from U.S. 220 will be closed.
After about two weeks, weather permitting, the new ramp will be open.
“I want to take a moment to thank the residents of Keyser, McCoole and Westernport for your patience and support. I would also like to thank NewPage in Luke, Maryland, for their partnership throughout this project,” said Crawford.
“We are excited about making traffic flow a little smoother for all those trucks carrying logging materials, as well as the 14,000 vehicles on the road that travel U.S. 220 every day.”
West Virginia has the sixth-largest highway system in the nation, according to Tomblin.
“As the governor likes to say, ‘Our highways connect us all,’” said Tomblin. “The governor is deeply committed to both maintaining these roads and making them safer.”
Gov. Tomblin will address a long-term plan for maintaining these roads at the upcoming legislative session, according to his wife.
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at email@example.com.