Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Churned water, green to brown

I was up on the bridge today to see a boat go under, but I ended up seeing something more interesting.

It began when Adam and I crossed the Huntington East End bridge over the Ohio River. The Ohio itself was green from algae, but the Guyandotte River, which flows into the Ohio just below the bridge, was brown from mud it carried from recent storms. It was interesting to see the dividing line between Guyandotte River water and Ohio River water.

We went ahead on down to the 6th Street Bridge so we could watch the towboat Leonard L. Whittington pass under downbound. We watched and photographed it, but then I noticed something. The water churned behind the Whittington was mud brown, like the Guyandotte River water. So the curious side of me got to wondering how deep the algae layer was on the surface of the Ohio River. And it wondered how much time would elapse before the water turned green again.

But we had to get to the store to buy groceries, and we couldn't wait. Too bad.

A bridge's silver anniversary

On or about Aug. 2, some of us here in the Huntington, W.Va. , area will note the 25th anniversary of something big. That’s the date in 1985 when the East End bridge opened to traffic.

We waited a long time for that bridge. It was 25 years in the making, partly because of Huntington’s habit of arguing everything to death and partly because of funding problems. (See note 1 below).

The local newspaper and TV stations might mark the anniversary, and if they do they’ll probably note that the bridge made it possible – easier, at least – for developers to build all those subdivisions in eastern Lawrence County, Ohio. The area was already converting from farmland to bedrooms before the bridge opened. The bridge accelerated the process by allowing people to work in West Virginia while living at less expense in Ohio. (Note 2)

But to some of us, there’smore. This bridge was the first cable stay bridge on the Ohio River. Since the East End bridge opened, we’ve seen cable stay bridges at Steubenville, Pomeroy and Portsmouth, Ohio, and at Maysville and Owensboro, Ky. They look new and modern, and they provide a sense of aesthetics that steel truss bridges don’t. (Note 3)

Back in 1985, I knew a World War II veteran in Ohio who refused to drive across the East End bridge for a long time. He said it just didn’t look strong enough, and he didn’t want to be on it if it should fall the way the Silver Bridge did just 18 years before.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while or who has seen my photostream on Flickr.com knows that I refer to the East End bridge as “my favorite bridge.” I love driving across it. I love photographing it at daybreak and sunset. I won’t try to explain it here in words. The pictures themselves will have to do the talking.

I’ve made a few comments that there’s a law in West Virginia requiring anyone living within 25 miles of Huntington to take a photo of the bridge at night. It was the first bridge in this area to be lit from the top of the tower to the roadway at night. The lights and the lines of the bridge challenge just about anyone with a camera and a tripod to get a nighttime photo.

One other thing of beauty: This bridge is asymmetrical. Take a look at this photo…

… and count the support cables on each side of the tower. There are 15 paris on the Ohio (left) side and 16 on the West Virginia side as seen from this angle. (Note 4).

The bridge isn’t perfect. It’s only two lanes, and there’s no sidewalk. Anyone who walks across it has to stick to a very narrow berm and hope they don’t encounter the kind of drivers that scared me when Adam and I walked up on an entry ramp once.

For the first 20-some years, this bridge was known officially as the East Huntington Bridge. Locals called it the East End bridge or the 31st Street bridge. A few years ago, one of my then-coworkers noted in a column on the sports page that this bridge hadn’t been named for anyone yet, so he suggested Frank “Gunner” Gatski, the first former football player at Marshall University to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Maybe a year later, a legislator made a big deal at a Marshall football game about having the bridge renamed in Gatski’s honor. Most locals have ignored the new name. I’ve barely forgiven my former coworker and am undecided about the legislator.

Somehow, sometime on Aug. 2, I’ll have to drive across the East End bridge to mark its anniversary. And I’ll hope people in those other communities enjoy their cable stay bridges the way I’ve enjoyed mine.


(1) The big argument in this case was where in West Virginia the bridge would be. Two locations were argued endlessly. A former colleague of mine said people were arguing over the fate of buildings they thought were historic, when they were merely  old. And as former Gov. Arch Moore would say, you could stand on a street corner in Huntington handing out $100 bills to anyone who walked by, and people would criticize you for standing on one side of the street and not the other. The arguing over the bridge’s location delayed the project by about 25 years. Yep, 25. Not two-point-five, but 25.

(2) In my three decades of newspapering in the Huntington area before my job was eliminated, I did several stories about eastern Lawrence County, including several on this theme: Each year, the Internal Revenue Service sells databases of state-to-state and county-to-county migration based on the number of exemptions claimed on personal income tax forms. I acquired those databases and ran the numbers. What I usually found, from year to year, was that the greatest net migration (inbound minus outbound) migration from West Virginia was to Mecklenberg County, N.C. (Charlotte), and Franklin County, Ohio (Columbus). While other counties moved into and out of the third spot on the list, Lawrence County, Ohio, usually was the fourth top destination for West Virginians moving out of state. And most of those came from Cabell and Wayne counties, the two West Virginia counties that border Lawrence County. Having the East End bridge provide access to the eastern end of Huntington accelerated a process that was already under way.

(3) The Ohio Department of Transportation wants to build a cable-stay bridge to replace the Ironton-Russell (Ky.) Bridge, which opened in 1922, but it’s having a few funding and design problems. Its original plan was to have one tall tower similar to the Huntington bridge, but that proved too expensive. The last I heard, the project was being redesigned with two smaller towers.

(4) When I had to vacate my office last year after my job was eliminated and my employment terminated, I had to leave behind my technical drawings and specs of the East End bridge. I would love to have them back.