The eastbound lanes of West Virginia’s busiest highway are likely to remain closed through Saturday afternoon, while workers repair a damaged expansion joint on the deck of Interstate 64’s Nitro-St. Albans bridge.
Eastbound traffic was routed off the freeway at about 1 p.m. on Thursday at the St. Albans exit and onto a detour that followed U.S. 60 back to I-64.
A state Division of Highways employee who works at the agency’s Scary Creek maintenance facility near the west end of the bridge spotted a hole that had formed in the concrete deck while driving over the span Thursday morning, and alerted DOH engineers in Charleston.
Engineers inspecting the underside of the deck found that a bolt securing a stack of two-inch-wide steel shims together to stabilize the expansion joint from below had come free.
“The shim plates were almost ready to come out,” allowing the expansion joint to shake back and forth and potentially cause more damage, said Tracy Brown, chief bridge engineer for the DOH. The portion of the bridge carrying eastbound traffic was immediately ordered closed, while the westbound lanes remain open.
More than 100,000 drivers travel I-64 daily, many of them commuters from Teays Valley, Hurricane and points west who will be seeking alternate routes east while I-64 bridge repairs take place.
“You don’t want to have I-64, which is operating near its capacity, shut down for any time at all,” said Brown, “but I think we can get done what needs to be done in the next 48 hours.”
Meanwhile, he said, “Our secondary roads will be crowded, but we’re hoping drivers will be patient and plan ahead.”
All Kanawha Valley law enforcement agencies have been alerted to the need for extra traffic management work, and highway display signs as far west as eastern Kentucky will be advising eastbound drivers about the problem and providing detour information.
To get the eastbound lanes open again, DOH personnel and agency contractors will cut concrete back from the expansion joints about one foot, and after repairs are complete to the expansion joint, install forms and pour new concrete around it. With high temperatures expected to rise only to the mid-30s Friday, the curing time for the concrete will be longer than normal.
While repairs are being made, other expansion joints on the bridge will be examined, Brown said. When the I-64 Nitro-St. Albans Bridge was last inspected in the summer of 2018, no deficiencies were found, he said.
The bridge is scheduled to be repaired and reconfigured during the next two years and another span added to the crossing, allowing three lanes of traffic from each direction to cross the Kanawha River. The contract for the $170 million project has been let, and design work is underway.
While I-64’s westbound lanes were not affected by the closure, DOH officials advise westbound travelers to be alert for slowdowns as eastbound traffic makes its way through the detour.