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Gov. Jim Justice remembers traffic on Interstate 64 between Charleston and Huntington being a problem almost since the highway linking the two cities opened in the 1970s, when he drove from his family’s home to Marshall University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“Way back when I had brown hair and was skinny and I was going to school not too far down the road from here, there was some level of congestion,” he said during a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a project that will eliminate one of the freeway’s most enduring bottlenecks.

Behind him, westbound traffic could be seen slowing down and stacking up for a bumper-to-bumper crossing of the four-lane Nitro-St. Albans I-64 bridge. During the next three years, it will be replaced with a two-span, six-lane crossing.

“This project’s been needed for a long, long time — since forever,” Justice said. “Now, we’re not just talking about what needs to be done, we’re doing it”

“It’s a great project for West Virginia,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who also took part in the dedication.

“As a resident of the Kanawha Valley, I know how difficult negotiating I-64 can be, especially here,” she said, where the existing bridge narrows westbound traffic down to two lanes from three.

The dual-bridge project is part of a 3.8-mile, $224 million widening between Nitro and the U.S. 35 interchange at Scott Depot. It will convert the last remaining segment of four-lane I-64 between West Virginia’s two largest cities to six lanes. On average, 70,000 vehicles each day travel through the bottleneck.

Construction already is underway on the widening project and the St. Albans interchange upgrade.

Justice’s Roads to Prosperity bond issue will finance most of the project’s cost, with a $20 million federal grant covering the rest.

A new bridge for westbound traffic will be built first, in close proximity to the existing span. Once that bridge is completed, the existing span will be demolished and the new three-lane bridge will carry all westbound and eastbound traffic until the second three-lane bridge is built at the site of the former two-lane span.

The project also involves two new flyover ramps at the St. Albans interchange, and the replacement of several much smaller bridges, including I-64 crossings over Rocky Step Road, W.Va. 25/McCloud Road and Conrail tracks, plus a new Bills Creek Road bridge over I-64.

Work is expected to be completed by October 2024.

To speed construction time, the project is being built through a design-build contract in a joint venture involving Brayman Construction and Trumbull Construction, both of Pittsburgh.

Construction activity can be monitored by visiting the state Department of Transportation’s www.nitro64.com website.

Justice used the groundbreaking ceremony as an opportunity to declare April to be Work Zone Safety Awareness Month in West Virginia.

“People need to remember to slow down and protect our workers,” he said.

“We all need to be patient when construction is underway,” Capito added.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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