BHJ updated on new, old bridges

STEUBENVILLE – State and local officials commented on the condition of the Market Street Bridge and efforts to have a new Ohio River bridge built between Wellsburg and Brilliant at Wednesday’s meeting of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Dave Sada, assistant district bridge engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, was asked to report on the Market Street Bridge’s condition following a report that the span is expected to remain open for at least 20 years.

Sada said he’s reluctant to put a time limit on the span, which was built in 1904 but underwent $17 million in renovations in 2012. Instead he said the state Division of Highways “will maintain and repair it for as long as it can.”

Sada said it’s reasonable to say “there will come a point when the structure will have to be closed.”

He said the engineering firm of Burgess and Niple of Parkersburg is under contract to inspect the bridge each year.

Sada added the firm also inspects the span whenever a truck strikes the barriers posted to prevent oversize vehicles from entering it, which he noted has been a recurring problem.

A 5-ton weight limit and 10-foot height limit have been established for the bridge.

He said following routine inspections done during the last two years, about $20,000 in repairs were made. He said it’s slightly more than for other bridges, but not excessive, as it can cost $3,000 to repair a damaged guardrail.

Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci applauded the state Division of Highways for rehabilitating the bridge; and those, including Follansbee Mayor Tony Paesano, who lobbied for the repairs and improvements.

He noted $10 million in federal economic stimulus funds were secured for the renovations, which included repairs to its towers; the Ohio approach spans and trusses; replacement of mobile inspection platforms; and it being repainted blue and gold.

Its decorative lighting, including laser-like blue streaks along both sides, was probably the most popular change.

Mucci encouraged state highway officials to continue to maintain the bridge, saying “It’s important to the city” and calling it “a bloodline going to the heart” of the city. But he said he was BHJ’s chairman when the Wellsburg-Brilliant Ohio River Bridge was recommended and will support it because of its potential to boost interstate commerce.

Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne, BHJ’s vice chairman, said the Market Street Bridge’s advancing age is one reason to proceed with the proposed new bridge.

“We’re glad work was done on the Market Street Bridge and hope it will last for another 10 years, but the point is, we don’t know,” he said.

Henne noted the span has been discussed many times over the years, leaving some to doubt it will be built.

“There are are still people saying they won’t see it in their lifetime, but I think they will,” he said.

John Brown, BHJ executive director, noted HDR Engineering of Weirton has been signed by the West Virginia Department of Transportation to design the bridge.

Brown said various funding avenues, including a government partnership with a private business, are being considered to fund the project. Its cost has been projected at $80 million to $120 million.

Mike Paprocki, transportation study director for BHJ, said BHJ is conducting computer modeling to predict traffic levels for the bridge. He said the projections will be based on Census figures for residents living in the area, state employment data for businesses there and other factors.

Proponents for the bridge have said it would encourage economic development to southern Brooke and Jefferson counties while providing another route between the states during emergencies, such as rock slides.

BHJ members also heard reports on road projects.

Roxanne Kane, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s liaison to BHJ, said the excavation along state Route 7 north of Rush Run is expected to be done later this summer, while trees are being cleared in another area south of it in preparation for excavation there. The work is intended to alleviate recurring rock slides.

Kane said another excavation project north of Brilliant has been delayed so an environmental survey may be done to determine the presence of long-eared bats, an endangered species. State highway officials hope to name a contractor for the project in February.

Kane said crews soon will begin replacing streetlights at the Franklin Avenue-Alexander Street interchange in Toronto. The project is expected to be completed in November.

Dan Sikora, WVDOH district director of construction, said crews have resumed work on the new Colliers Way Bridge and it’s expected to be completed this fall. They had stopped for the winter because it’s more practical for them to pour concrete for the span’s deck in warm weather, he said.

BHJ members also approved a resolution encouraging Ohio legislators to return a fair share of revenue from the natural gas industry to the communities where it is operating to address short- or long-term adverse impacts. Such impacts may include increased wear on roads from heavy truck traffic.

Brown said BHJ isn’t for or against a natural gas severance tax, which is being considered by lawmakers, but if one is adopted, he believes it should be shared fairly with the communities affected.