Ground broken for new bridge

GROUNDBREAKING HELD — Many local officials were on hand for Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ohio River bridge. They included, from left, Brooke County Commissioners Jim Andreozzi and Stacey Wise; Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti; Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis; W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice; Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle; Bethany Mayor Patrick Sutherland; Beech Bottom Mayor Becky Uhlly; Beech Bottom Councilman Bob Sadler; and Brooke County Family Court Judge Joyce Dumbaugh Chernenko. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — The idea of a new Ohio River bridge, between the southern ends of Brooke and Jefferson counties, has been long in the making, W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice noted as he presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for the span Tuesday.

“Eighteen years. A lot of you have been at this for 18 years. I don’t know how you stood it for 18 years,” said Justice as he joined other officials in acknowledging the persistence of citizens and local officials and support of state and federal officials in bringing the project to fruition.

The result, he said, will be “an engineering accomplishment beyond belief” and an improvement to the region’s transportation system that will help to foster economic development.

“I absolutely believe good things are coming,” Justice said.

Beech Bottom Mayor Becky Uhlly also was optimistic, saying, “It (the bridge) is going open up the whole southern end of Brooke County for commercial and residential development.”

The ceremony was held in an open lot behind the Smith Oil gas station, where nearly 100 workers with the Flatiron Corp. of Broomfield, Colo., are slated to begin construction of the 830-foot tied-arch span after February.

Joe Juszczak, West Virginia Division of Highways district construction engineer, said there are plans to post a webcam at the site to allow residents to follow construction progress through the state Department of Transportation’s website.

Juszczak said once completed, the span will be transported by two barges down river about a mile south of Wellsburg and lowered onto its piers with large jacks on the barges from about 80 feet in the air.

With an estimated weight of 4,000 tons, the span is believed to be the heaviest structure to be lifted in such a way in the United States, said Randy Damron, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

“We’re really excited to have innovation as it’s used here,” said Tom Smith, state Secretary of Transportation, who added state highway officials should be open to new ideas from contractors in order to most feasibly advance such projects.

Once completed, the bridge will extend 1,600 feet across the river, touching down at the intersection of Third and Clever streets in Brilliant, not far from state Route 7.

Crews have begun preliminary work in Ohio, including the removal of a house near the intersection, and are awaiting permits needed to start construction of the abutment there. Work on the West Virginia abutment is slated to begin next year, with the span scheduled to be lowered into place in summer 2020.

Plans call for it to be completed in 2021.

Juszczak said the 60-foot deck will consist of four lanes, one each for west- and eastbound traffic; a center turn lane for vehicles turning against the flow of traffic on each end; and a lane for bicyclists.

Some have questioned or criticized the decision not to build a four-lane span, but Juszczak said the lanes could be restriped for four if needed in the future.

Plans call for the bicyclists to continue down a railed ramp to the Brooke County Pioneer Trail below.

A 4,000-foot-long retaining wall will be built between the bridge and the trail.

Juszczak said the contractor suggested moving the bridge’s approach closer to the river to eliminate the need to excavate the hillside along state Route 2, reducing the project’s cost.

Two turn lanes will be added to state Route 2 for vehicles entering the bridge.

Justice noted the bridge is a collaboration between the West Virginia and Ohio departments of transportation, with both drawing on federal highway money to finance it.

The states have signed an agreement in which West Virginia, which owns the river, will pay 65 percent of the span’s cost, and Ohio will pay 35 percent.

The late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and former U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller secured $18 million for its planning and initial construction.

Lloyd McAdam, assistant director and chief engineer for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said the new span will reduce a 50-mile gap between Ohio River crossings from Wheeling to Steubenville and will support development in southern Jefferson County as well.

McAdam noted the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission made the bridge a top transportation priority. Two studies commissioned by BHJ noted the advancing ages of the Fort Steuben Bridge, which has since been demolished, and the Market Street Bridge, which has undergone $10 million in renovations but is more than 100 years old.

In addition to boosting development, creating another interstate corridor between areas of state Routes 2 and 7 where rock slides are frequent also was given as a motive for the bridge.

Credit for the project’s initiation was extended to local officials and a grassroots citizens group that lobbied local and state officials for the span.

Walter Ferguson, a member of that group, said of the project’s groundbreaking, “I’m just thrilled to death. I’m so thankful for the people of the community (including residents of Brilliant and several Brooke County communities) who had confidence in what we were trying to do.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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