Bridge closure remains a frustration and a safety concern for those who live in Kanawha Falls

KANAWHA FALLS, WV (WOAY) – It started with a bridge closure in 2018, and it continues to cause not only headaches but major safety concerns for those who live in the Kanawha Falls area.

They now have to use narrow and windy access roads to Montgomery or Beckwith to get out, and DOH says there are still no plans to fix or replace their bridge.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Kanawha Falls resident Belenda Peterson said.

The bridge closed due to damage and since then, this has turned a quick trip to Gauley Bridge across the river to a long voyage up the mountain onto 61 and then into Montgomery.

The road to 61, that most refer to as Boonesboro Road, was originally gravel and was given a base last summer. It is meant now to serve traffic both ways but there are still severely tight squeezes where residents say the only option is to back up and hope for a place to pull off.

Because of the unsafe driving conditions, the Post Office will not drive through anymore, and the school bus won’t come, leaving residents to travel to places like Smithers or Gauley Bridge for the school bus or to pick up their mail.

“They’ve put millions and millions of dollars into this road that nobody wants,” Andrea Eskew, one resident, said. “It’s no use to us. We have no need to go the back road or the way to Beckwith to get to where we want to go, which is straight across the river.”

The bridge was closed in November of 2018 originally for repairs or a possible replacement.

The Division of Highways then announced it would be a cheaper venture to pave the once gravel road saying that would cost around $8 million when replacing the bridge or fixing it would cost anywhere from $20 to $40 million.

DOH also said it would have taken two to three years of bridge closure to complete the project.

Now that the road has started caving in and rock slides have often times left it closed and the people stranded, residents believe this will end up being way more expensive in the long run.

However, Jason Foster, a chief engineer with DOH, says the road repairs are turning out to be cheaper than they thought.

He said they ended up opening up the road to Beckwith in September as it was once closed due to flooding damage, so that the community has two entry and exit points.

This road is also narrow, windy and according to residents, difficult to drive.

“I can tell you that we’ve authorized in the range of $6 million dollars for the road repairs,” Foster said. “But I believe we’re in the $2 million-dollar range for all of the repairs we have done to date.”

Once Boonesboro began caving in in some parts, DOH and the railroad called in GSI to help stabilize the road, and that work is currently being done on the road and causing daily delays for those who travel it.

Now, with a pandemic and an elderly population, there is heightened concern about ambulances and other medical and emergency personnel getting through.

For 85-year-old Annie L. Clark, she says it is just better to stay home out of fear.

“I’ve only driven out about two times because of the narrowness and no place to pass and don’t want to have to back up and you never know what you’re going to meet going down that road,” Clark said.

The residents are still urging officials to reconsider fixing their bridge especially now that $50 million is being allocated across the state to fix medical access roads under  the CARES Act.

When the residents cannot make it to their doctor’s appointments because of construction, a rock slide or simply out of fear, they say this becomes less about convenience and more about safety.

“You don’t care what our problems are. We are the ones that are stuck. And nobody seems to care about us,” Peterson said.

DOH says the road repairs will be completed by mid-September.

Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.