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Coonskin bridge construction to begin by July

After nine years of planning and lobbying, filled with threats of shutting down Charleston’s National Guard base, construction on a new bridge entrance to Coonskin Park will begin within the next couple months.

“The legal stuff’s behind us and we’re moving forward,” said Carrie Bly, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Division of Highways, which is overseeing the project.

Brent Walker, communications director for the DOH, said construction could begin as early as May, but certainly would begin by mid-July.

Bly said the DOH had just completed pre-construction meetings with the contractor and that prep work on the site, at the north end of the park, would begin in the next few weeks. Construction is expected to take about 15 months, for an October 2015 completion date, Bly said.

The project cleared its final logistical hurdle Thursday, when the state Board of Public Works approved the transfer of 1.2 acres along the Elk River from the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Board to the DOH.

The Board of Public Works is made up of the six elected officials (governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general and agriculture commissioner) and the superintendent of schools. The board must approve all transfers, purchases and sales of state-owned property.

The board previously had transferred property for the bridge project in December.

“This will be a much better entrance and exit to the park,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Allen Tackett, former leader of the West Virginia National Guard, who began the push for the bridge in 2005. Tackett pointed out that the new entrance will be much closer to the park’s golf course and swimming pool and won’t bring all park traffic through picnic areas.

Swank Construction Co., of New Kensington, Pa., will build the bridge, at a cost of $6.2 million. Swank’s bid was significantly less than initial cost estimates of $9 million to $11 million.

Swank also is in charge of the bridge’s design.

While the design is not yet finalized, Walker said it will be a continuous steel-girder bridge, similar to the recently completed Dick Henderson Bridge, connecting Nitro and St. Albans. The bridge will have a concrete deck, two lanes for traffic and a pedestrian walkway. There will be no piers in the water below.

It will be made of weathering steel, an alloy that develops a stable, rust-like patina over time. Weathering steel, also used on the New River Gorge Bridge, saves money because it does not need to be painted.

The bridge will cross the Elk River at the far north end of Coonskin Park, connecting the park with Pennsylvania Avenue, about a half mile northeast of the Mink Shoals exit of Interstate 79.

The project is jointly funded by Kanawha County, state taxpayers, the National Guard and Yeager Airport.

State and county officials have been pushing for the bridge since 2005, when the federal Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] Commission recommended shutting down the 130th Airlift Wing, located at Yeager Airport and near Coonskin Park. The commission said there were security issues with having a public road, Coonskin Drive, bisect the Guard complex. Once the bridge is completed, Coonskin Drive will be used only for National Guard traffic.

After the Guard base was slated for closure in 2005, there were initial plans of federal funding for a new bridge. However, after the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., those plans did not materialize.

There’s no guarantee the base will be safe if there’s another round of base closures, but the completion of the bridge puts it in a much stronger position, Tackett said.

“We have mitigated everything that was in the 2005 BRAC that would have caused the base to be closed,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the park.”

Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed to this report.

Reach David Gutman at or 304-348-5119.

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