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Opening Day Set


We’ll cross that bridge…on Nov. 19, the opening day, say state officials

From The Marietta Times, Saturday, October 29, 1977

Story by Adella Wacker, Photos by Dave Williams

            It sure has been a long time. 

            When the new four-lane bridge opens between St. Marys, W. Va., and Newport, “it’s going to be the biggest thing that’s happened here in 10 years—they’re going to be jumping,” said a St. Marys businessman.

            Ten years is just how long the townspeople have been without a bridge.

            “It’s been hard on a lot of families,” said Rob Lewis, who is president of the St. Marys Retail Merchants Association.

            Families in the two towns had married, worked, shopped and visited back and forth.

            The demise of the old Hiram Carpenter Bridge caused a slow decline in their relationships, said Lewis.  Business declined on both sides.

            “It’s going to be amazing to see how everyone gets back together.”  Lewis said.

            He will get his chance to see how the towns get back together on Nov. 19.  That’s the official opening date for the bridge from Charles Miller, the West Virginia Highway Commissioner.

            But it’s a date met with healthy skepticism by the locals. 

            “Oh, but we don’t know what year,” teased John Hendricks at Newport Lumber Co.

            The state and the Federal Highway Administration first foresaw a November, 1976 opening.  Then they said summer.  Then September.  Now, November.

            But they seem serious this time.  On Tuesday the state has scheduled a meeting with town officials to plan the celebration.  They’ve never gone that far before.

            Lewis said the hoopla will coincide with St. Marys’ annual Christmas season promotion.

            The state will arrange for speakers and guests, which are to include Gov. Jay Rockefeller.

            And when the traffic comes across the 2,579 feet of steel and concrete, good things are going to happen for St. Marys, a town of 2,500, hopes James Rekard, manager of Shouldis Department Store. 

            And it will mean more Ohio traffic to Harrisville, Sistersville, Paden City and Belmont, W. Va.

            But the bridge traffic won’t be one way.  Ralph Hendricks, the president of Newport Lumber, said he lost 30 per cent of his business when the old bridge first closed.

            He hopes to reclaim a chunk of it. 

            The Marietta Area Merchants Association has hoped the bridge would open in time to carry Christmas shoppers from West Virginia.

            St. Marys has the Quaker State refining plant, Union Carbide, American Cyanamid and construction on the Willow Island power station.  Their workers and families in St. Marys can just as easily go to Parkersburg now. 

            Lewis , Rekard and Ralph Hendricks outlined the logistics of getting to and from St. Marys for the past 10 years.

            Hendricks said he makes the 50-mile trip from Newport Lumber to Marietta, over the Williamstown Bridge and on W. Va. Rt. 2 to St. Marys.

            The closest alternative is the ferry at St. Marys.  It runs from about 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and takes passengers across the Ohio River for 60 cents ($2.50 for trucks), said Rekard.

            But some complain the ferry is not consistent, and the waits can be long.

            The other choice was the ferry at Sistersville, W. Va.

            It was on Dec. 18, 1967, that the Hi Carpenter span was closed.  That was three days after the similarly-designed Silver Bridge collapsed at Point Pleasant and killed 46 persons. 

            The Hi Bridge was reopened briefly to light traffic, but it was closed for good on Dec. 30, 1968.  It had been built in 1928.

            Initial plans included repairing the Hi Carpenter and building a new bridge on existing piers.

            In April, 1970, former Gov. Arch Moore, Jr., after a “town meeting” at St. Marys, said West Virginia would build a $13.5 million four-lane toll bridge on the Carpenter piers.

            “The governor said the new bridge would be ready for traffic in 24 months,” a Times article said.

            In the interim, West Virginia got approval for federal funds for 100 per cent of the cost of the bridge.  Environmental impact studies, hearings and locations and approval from the U.S. Coast Guard had to be obtained. 

            Work started about October 1972.  It was supposed to take about three years.

            Earl R. Scyok, the director of the construction division for the West Virginia Department of Highways, said recently design considerations mainly were responsible for the slow pace of the construction.

            It takes “a long time after contract letting before you see any progress because of the fabrication process,” he said.

            He said it could take a company a year to 18 months to get the steel rolled in the mills and form steel to fit exact bridge measurements.

            The Memorial Bridge at Point Pleasant, W. Va., was completed in two years because it was built from an existing design rather than a new one.

            In addition, Scyok said, the Point Pleasant contractors were hired and paid to build the bridge on a high-priority deadline.  Work at St. Marys didn’t have as high a priority.

            Are some people angry about the time it took to get the bridge?

            “Yeah, sure,” said Rekard of the St. Mary’s department store.

            “I think it was outrageous,” said Hendricks.

            Area residents really don’t understand why the bridge took so long to get built, he said.

            But Lewis said St. Marys people have been patient.

            He credited Sen. Jennings Randolph, D-W. Va., for securing the federal funds to build a four-lane bridge that will not charge tolls.

            But the wait?  “We were content to do that, as long as we got a bridge.”

            The cost of it to date is $24,222,459.