MINERAL WELLS - The new West Virginia 14 bridge at Mineral Wells opened Thursday, offering new possibilities for the area, said some of those who came out for the start of traffic on the bridge.
The bridge is the last piece in a three-phase construction project near Interstate 77 in Mineral Wells that began more than a decade ago. The bridge is significant in it eliminates a sharp bend in W.Va. 14 at W.Va. 21.
"We are certainly happy to have the bridge done," said Rusty Roten, District 3 engineer for the WVDOH.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
The first vehicles cross the new West Virginia 14 bridge in Mineral Wells around 2 p.m. Thursday.
Roten said the bridge provides better access and addresses a number of traffic issues in the area.
"It will provide residents in Wirt County and that part of Wood County easier access to Interstate 77," he said.
Work still needs to be done to connect power lines to traffic signals. Roten is hopeful those will be done very soon. In the mean time, there are signs and message boards alerting people to the new traffic patterns .
The $9.4 million project was awarded in 2010 and done by Orders Construction of St. Albans.
Shortly before the 2 p.m. opening a few people were able to walk across the bridge and took pictures. A couple of employees with Comfort Suites wanted the opportunity to be among the first to drive across the bridge.
Heather Dowler, guest service representative with Comfort Suites, and her co-worker, Vern Harris, were able to drive across the bridge and back, honking their vehicle's horn to the amusement of workers with Orders Construction who were gathered on the bridge.
"We wanted to see if we could be one of the first ones across the bridge when they were done," Dowler said.
The two and Comfort Suites sales manager Tammy Reynolds had their pictures taken together and with some of the construction workers on the bridge.
It was a bittersweet moment for Dowler.
"This whole crew has been with us for a couple of years," she said of the construction crews that have been staying at the Comfort Suites while work was going on.
"They have been absolutely wonderful," she added. "They have worked really hard on this bridge.
"We are just going to miss them so much. It is a happy moment, but it is also really sad. They all became like our family. Now it is time for them to depart and leave us."
Harris said they got to know these people and while work was going on, the flaggers always made it a point to make sure the employees were able to get into the Comfort Suites' parking lot on busy days with a lot of traffic.
"They were like our own personal flaggers," she said with a laugh.
"They have been so kind and accommodating," she said. "We enjoyed having them in-house."
Dave and Jan Bargeloh of nearby Turkey Foot Road came out to see the opening of the bridge. They were able to walk out on the bridge and have their pictures taken.
"We have been anticipating the project for a long time and watched its progress," Dave Bargeloh said.
The couple has lived in the area for many years and seen Mineral Wells change from a rural farming community to what it is today.
"Through the years we have seen so many changes," Jan Bargeloh said.
The new bridge will provide a straight shot into Mineral Wells.
"It is going to be so much safer for the school buses going up to the elementary school," Dave Bargeloh said. "It has always been a bottleneck down there (at the curve in W.Va. 14 at W.Va. 21).
"There has been a lot of concern about that old concrete bridge down there. At one time they had it labeled as the most unsafe bridge in the state (before it was reinforced and improved awhile back)."
The couple is excited about the possibilities this new road access will have for the area. They believe the new access will spur commercial development around the area.
"It is such a huge improvement," Dave Bargeloh said. "It is going to be a boom to the whole area, I think, to have better access.
"It will open up the community."
Roten said the old road will remain open for awhile but will eventually be closed. Traffic was going across the bridge just after 2 p.m.
Reynolds said the new access should make traffic move more smoothly through the area with easier access to many local businesses.
"I know that sharp turn was of great concern for a lot of people," she said. "It is a straight shot now into Mineral Wells.
"I think it is going to make traffic for the local businesses a lot quicker. It took a while to get here, but it will be worth it."