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West Virginia Civil War Bridge Recaptured With Sister Span

Wed May 24, 2000 - Northeast Edition
Joe Bird

In a quiet little town in the hills of central West Virginia, construction is well under way on a small bridge and highway project. Were it not for the setting, there would be little to distinguish this project from one of probably hundreds of similar projects across the country.

The town is Philippi, reportedly the site of the first land battle of the Civil War. It was here in 1861 that Union troops attacked Confederate troops and took control of a covered wooden bridge across the Tygart River. And it is this connection to the past that has spurned the current $10-million project.

The Philippi Covered Bridge, built in 1852, continues to serve local traffic today, as well as traffic from U.S. Route 250. It has survived floods and fire, and in 1989, underwent an extensive restoration project. Timbers were replaced and the exterior was restored to its original appearance. Steel girders now support a concrete deck and the bridge is equipped with smoke detectors, a sprinkler system and modern lighting.

Although the two-lane bridge can carry the loads of the heaviest truck traffic, the lanes are quite narrow and the approach to the bridge from Route 250 is very restricted. For trucks that can’t make the turn directly onto the bridge, there is a designated turn-around area to provide trucks a better angle for making the approach. It’s a less than ideal situation for 21st century traffic engineering.

Thus, the need for the Philippi By-Pass Bridge project. From Route 250, a new two-lane highway will carry traffic along the east side of the Tygart River, giving motorists a picturesque view of the covered bridge downstream. The new bridge will cross the river, as well as railroad tracks, on the other side of the town.

Despite the peaceful setting of the small town and the tranquil flow of the lazy river, the project has not been without a few challenges. According to Gary Conners of Orders Construction of St. Albans, WV, the general contractor for the project, old coal mine workings were encountered at the subgrade of the highway. Apparently core borings were not extended below the projected subgrade elevation and the remains of a previously mined 1.5-meter (5 ft.) thick seam of coal was not discovered until construction began. The workings will be excavated and replaced with engineered fill.

And the weather has not cooperated. Last year it was the drought. This year, an unusually rainy spring has made for high river levels – and headaches for Superintendent Linville Burton in keeping water out of the cofferdams for the bridge piers. Nonetheless, work continues.

The two-lane bridge is a seven-span, 274-meter (900 ft.) prestressed concrete structure with a concrete deck and Type F parapet walls. Approximately 224,000 cubic meters (293,000 cu. yds.) of unclassified excavation is required for the project and approximately 61,000 cubic meters (80,000 cu. yds.) of fill. The original plans called for the site excavation to be hauled across the old covered bridge and through town to be used as fill materials on the other side of the river. But the earthwork subcontractor found it more economical to borrow fill material from a nearby hillside and to waste the excess excavation from the site earthwork.

Orders Construction was low bidder for the West Virginia Division of Highways project at approximately $9.1 million. To date there have been more than $800,000 in change orders, largely due to the relocation of water and sewer lines, which was not included in the original contract documents. Anticipated change orders will push the final price tag to more than $10 million.

The original completion date for the project was October 2000, but scheduling difficulties beyond the control of the contractor have pushed that date to sometime in early 2001. Orders Construction, which owns most of its equipment, has been able to juggle personnel and equipment to minimize the effect of downtime and delays.

Even so, as with all projects of this nature, the pace of the work is deliberate. The earthwork for the roadway happens relatively quickly, as construction on the bridge slowly progresses. The job will get done, but at a pace that seems to fit the town of Philippi. It’s a pace that Orders Construction should be accustomed to, having been involved in the restoration of the old covered bridge ten years ago.

The Philippi By-Pass is a bridge project not unlike many others, yet very different in many ways. An idyllic setting, a link to the past and a comfortable way of life. Maybe not the biggest or the most glamorous project, but then again, bigger is not always better.

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