Cumberland Times-News

Local News

June 26, 2010

Byrd’s name leads way on W.Va. bridges, highways

More than 450 roads, spans honor citizens

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the practice gaining popularity during the past decade, West Virginia officials have named 460 bridges and highways across the state to recognize military veterans, politicians, labor leaders, sports and entertainment figures and a handful of historical events.

Naming bridges and highways was an especially popular practice this past session for the West Virginia Legislature, where lawmakers directed the state Division of Highways to name 64 bridges and roads. That’s about a 16 percent increase in named bridges and roads in one year.

While many bridges and roads are named to honor citizens who have died, some have been named for the living.

Brent Walker, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said members of the Legislature introduce resolutions that designate names for specific bridges, and those resolutions must pass both houses of the Legislature. In addition, Walker said, governors and highway commissioners have the authority to name bridges, but those decisions can later be rescinded. The Legislature’s joint resolutions cannot.

Delano A. Burford, whose duties include keeping track of bridge names for the Division of Highways, said the agency usually receives 20 to 30 resolutions each year from the Legislature to name bridges. He acknowledged the Legislature was busier than usual this year with its bridge- and road-naming activities.

State Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming County, who has sponsored resolutions to name more than a dozen bridges and roads, said he see the practice as important to many West Virginia families.

“People call me about naming a bridge, and I’ll say that I need to speak to the family, that I need to know about the highlights of their life so we can make a nice resolution,” Browning said.

He noted he sponsored a resolution several years ago to name a bridge in memory of a young Wyoming County man who was killed during the Vietnam War. As a youngster, Browning said, the soldier played under that bridge. His family still lives in a house next to the bridge.

“It’s not expensive,” Browning said. “It’s truly a way we can honor an individual, like veterans who have given their lives for their country. I think it’s a good gesture.”

Walker said the cost of installing signs ranges from $330 to $950, depending on the size of the signs. Most come in at the lesser cost, he said.

Walker acknowledged the state’s database is incomplete — some older entries are missing information. But he said some information on the genesis of bridge and road names is available online in the legislative record, which includes resolutions that specify bridge and road names.

The Division of Highways database shows Legislature has become more aggressive in naming bridges and roads during the past decade. More than three-fourths of roads and bridges on the list received their names during the past 10 years.

The state’s database on bridge and highway names shows the following:

The earliest mention of the state naming a road or bridge was July 7, 1937. Through gubernatorial action, old U.S. 19 in Nicholas County became the Stonewall Jackson Highway. That came during the administration of Homer A. Holt.

While the practice started in the 1930s, naming roads and bridges didn’t catch on in a significant way until the 1990s.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s name appears the most among individuals — at least eight times. They include the Robert C. Byrd Expressway and Robert C. Byrd Bridge in Ohio County; Robert C. Byrd Highway (Corridor H); Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (also Corridor H); Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (Corridor G/U.S. 119); Robert C. Byrd Bridge in Huntington; Robert C. Byrd Interchange at Birch River; Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (Corridor L/I-77).

Tragedies have received attention. Among those mem-orialized are Buffalo Creek dam failure in Logan County and the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant.

The sports world is well represented on roads and bridges: The honored include former West Virginia University football coach Don Nehlen, broadcaster Jack Fleming, WVU basketball All-America Floyd “Scottie” Hamilton, Frank “Gunner Gatski,” the late Marshall University and NFL standout, and Clair Bee, a highly successful college basketball coach and author who was a native of Taylor County.

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