News on bridge good to hear

The good news of the week, perhaps of the year for local drivers, came from Wednesday’s meeting of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

BHJ Executive Director John Brown said West Virginia’s transportation secretary, Paul Mattox, has advised local officials the acquisition for right of way for a new Ohio River bridge between Brilliant and an area south of Wellsburg could start in 2016.

That would mean the new bridge has taken only about 15 years from the germination of an idea to steps that would make construction more than just a design.

The Veterans Memorial Bridge, whose ramps and interchanges on the West Virginia side are undergoing the first major maintenance since the bridge opened in 1990, took about 40 years from idea to completion. That means the new river bridge would be moving along at a comparatively rapid pace.

The construction on the ramps and interchanges in the Veterans Memorial Bridge area points out the need for a second Ohio River bridge in the area. When the Ohio Department of Transportation chose to blast the Fort Steuben Bridge instead of repairing it, the area’s traffic was set back to a point last seen in about 1972.

Longtime area motorists will remember that as a year of massive traffic backups as the Fort Steuben Bridge, then the main cross-river link between East Liverpool and Wheeling, was closed for a major construction project. The big difference with the Veterans Memorial Bridge is that it’s a multi-lane structure and has better-designed highway interchanges, but traffic backups are traffic backups, no matter the year.

We’re pleased with the work of local officials to get the bridge put on the front burner in an era where the federal government seems little interested in building more pieces of the highway network when it’s tough enough to maintain what already exists. We also recognize part of the federal commitment came because of the strength of West Virginia’s Sen. Jay Rockefeller and the late Robert Byrd.

The new bridge is being considered for public-private partnership dollars, one of three projects under consideration by West Virginia for such funding.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean tolls. Ohio is using such a partnership to complete the expensive Innerbelt Bridge project in Cleveland, with private partners to be repaid through the state’s gas tax.

Still, completion in some timely fashion will depend on Congress actually passing a transportation bill this year, something it’s been unable to do for several years.

Local officials have been lobbying and will continue to do so.

We’d suggest inviting the entire Senate and House to spare a day to drive through the traffic jams around the Veterans Memorial Bridge this summer and then ask them to look area drivers in the eye and tell them another bridge can be delayed for years while politicians argue.