Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Thursday, January 10, 2008 - 1:21AM

Fort Hill, Oakwood, Carter - what do you call this bridge?

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I-64's Fort Hill Bridge at Oakwood RoadCharleston's iconic downtown bridge - the picture-postcard like span that appears in nearly every classic photo of the city - seems to have an identity crisis.

The West Virginia Department of Highways calls it the Fort Hill Bridge. Some Fire/EMS personnel, some news media and many locals call it the Oakwood Bridge. Other media outlets just say it's the bridge on I-64 at the Oakwood Road interchange or the Fort Hill interchange. And if that wasn't enough, signs at either end of the bridge call it the Eugene A. Carter Memorial Bridge.

The bridge and interchange has been around since 1975 when the Interstate 64 route into Charleston was completed, and you would think that such a large, prominent bridge on Charleston's main thoroughfare in the middle of town would have a name settled on by now. The South Side Bridge, the New River Gorge Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel aren't referred to by five different names - so why doesn't this bridge have an 'official' name yet?

When I've witnessed accidents at this bridge and called 911, the dispatchers often don't even know where I'm taking about when I say 'Oakwood Bridge'. I usually have to describe the location in detail, saying 'it's the big blue bridge downtown with the sharp curve that carries I-64 over the Kanawha River' before they understand where to send the first responders! (listen to audio clip below)

AUDIO CLIP: 911 call: Trying to describe the bridge to the dispatcher

The Fort Hill name comes from the neighborhood on top of the mountain overlooking the bridge. The Oakwood name comes from the road at which the original entrance and exit ramps led to, and from which the highway exit signs are currently labeled. The Eugene A. Carter name comes from this resolution put forth during the 2005 session of the West Virginia Legislature:

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 17--Requesting the Division of Highways name the I-64 bridge in Charleston, known as the Fort Hill Bridge, crossing the Kanawha River, the "Eugene A. Carter Bridge".
Whereas, Eugene A. Carter was born in 1909 in Prudence, Fayette County. At the age of 17, he went to work for the New River Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company, the same coal company that employed his father;
and Whereas, In 1934, during the Depression, Eugene A. Carter came to Charleston and began working as a driver for a local dairy company. He helped to form the first local Teamsters Union. In 1936, he was elected President of Teamsters Local 175 and served in that capacity until 1974;
and Whereas, In 1945, Eugene A. Carter was elected President of the West Virginia Federation of Labor and served in that capacity until the AFL State Federation and the CIO Industrial Union Council merged to form the West Virginia Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, in 1957;
and Whereas, The leadership and inspiration of Eugene A. Carter helped the AFL and the Teamsters to experience dramatic growth during his tenure. He truly dedicated his life for the betterment of West Virginia workers and serves as an inspiration to labor leaders who have followed him;
therefore, be it Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia: That the Legislature hereby requests the Division of Highways name the I-64 bridge in Charleston, known as the Fort Hill Bridge, crossing the Kanawha River, the "Eugene A. Carter Bridge";
and, be it Further Resolved, That the Division of Highways is requested to have made and be placed signs identifying the bridge as the "Eugene A. Carter Bridge";
and, be it Further Resolved, That the Clerk of the Senate is hereby directed to forward a copy of this resolution to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation.

Where is the poll?

Thanks to everyone who voted in the recent poll - it was certainly the biggest response to a single article on this blog's history! Before this morning (Wednesday), out of a total of 98 responses, the Oakwood name had 61% of the vote, with the Fort Hill name at 28%, and the Carter name at 11%. This morning and today, the poll suddenly received a flurry of 114 consecutive votes - all in support of the Carter name. This sudden, overwhelming response tipped the scales in favor of the Eugene A. Carter name with 52% of the total vote by 8:30PM tonight. However, the surge in response in favor of the Carter name appeared to come from an organized group effort and not from a random selection of Charlestonians. While it was great to see the response to the issue and the passionate support of the Carter name, it didn't end up making for a fair poll result.

Going to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to do a poll on who America's favorite football team is will get you a lot of votes, but probably give you a less-than-stellar snapshot on what the rest of the country thinks. Likewise, the poll on the Carter/Fort Hill/Oakwood bridge became a vehicle for a special interest to overwhelm the results - which swung the tally in the opposite direction, but most likely not by getting a true sampling of the opinion of Charlestonians. While I appreciate the responses to the poll, it has reached the end of its ability to convey an accurate reflection of what the average Kanawha Valley resident thinks that the Carter/Fort Hill/Oakwood bridge is called. Therefore I've taken it down temporarily.

Unfortunately I think the intention of this article was misunderstood as a criticism on the bridge's Carter name, which invoked the response responsible for skewing the poll results. For that I apologize - and I'll reiterate again that this blog does not seek to change the bridge's name nor does it have any clout with the state of West Virginia to do so. I will most likely bring the poll back once I figure a way to word it so it won't seem threatening to the status of the bridge's official name, thereby avoiding the one-sided response it did before.

Where are the comments?

As I have said repeatedly, this article does not seek to revoke or change the Eugene A. Carter name of the former Fort Hill Bridge. Since the trend in recent comments suggests that my efforts to make this clarification either haven't been noticed or have been ignored, I decided to temporarily disable comments for this article. The previously posted comments to this page can be found here.

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