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Last puzzle piece in place for new Ohio River bridge

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Transportation put together the final piece of the funding puzzle for building an Ohio River bridge between Wellsburg and Brilliant Thursday with approval of $37 million for the project.

Lloyd MacAdam, deputy director for ODOT District 11, made the official announcement to reporters at the offices of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission Thursday afternoon.

The Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Committee, which makes funding recommendations for major projects, gave approval Thursday morning. MacAdam said he and engineer Waseem Khalifa, engineer and project manager, learned of the award during a webcast with ODOT headquarters in Columbus.

MacAdam and Khalifa were at BHJ’s offices in downtown Steubenville Thursday afternoon to confirm the final piece of the funding puzzle for the $130 million bridge between Wellsburg and Brilliant was approved Thursday morning by the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Committee. The TRAC agreed to spend $37 million spread over 10 years for the bridge project. — Paul Giannamore

MacAdam said it was the largest award by TRAC, and it was one of two District 11 projects approved, the other being $4.8 million for the $23.6 million Mall Road-Interstate 70 access project in Belmont County. Only one other project was approved statewide, for the Interstate 680 widening around Youngstown.

He congratulated BHJ Executive Director Mike Paprocki, who said, “Thank you for all your help and your concern and your support of the project. You were one of our largest proponents.”

He said MacAdam also was a proponent of the intersection modificatons under way at state Route 7 and University Boulevard to improve access to the Veterans Memorial Bridge and increase safety at the intersection.

The money will go into the funding sources that include West Virginia and federal dollars to build the bridge, estimated at more than $130 million. ODOT will be responsible for building the connections to the Ohio side of the bridge at Brilliant, as well as the portion of the bridge that extends to the West Virginia border, near the Ohio side of the river.

MacAdam said BHJ made multiple presentations to the TRAC and expressed its belief in the project, helping gain backing for the TRAC vote on Thursday.

Paprocki said West Virginia is providing $93 million for the project.

Paprocki noted the bridge project dates back to 1995, when Suzan Gad was executive director at BHJ and it continued with the work of director John Brown for many years.

“John Brown, thank you. He did quite a number of visits and there was an $18 million earmark that came through (former) Sen. Jay Rockefeller , D-W.Va. Those dollars were used for much of the engineering and some of the right of way,” Paprocki said.

Paprocki said it was exciting when the bridge made its way onto the six-year federal funding plan for highways.

MacAdam said, “It is exciting for the entire region to see a $130 million project that will be happening during the next four years.”

Paprocki said construction should take about three years and provide construction work, but in the long term, it will help serve ongoing economic development work, including the 300-acre site of the Beech Bottom industrial park being developed through the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, to the south of the new bridge.

West Virginia will manage the construction. It sent out requests last week that are due back at the end of March for qualifications for firms to design and build the bridge. From there, the field will be narrowed to several firms which will be asked to submit proposals. Those are due back by the end of July and a contractor will be selected. Right of way and design work will be done first and the type of bridge to be built will then be decided. The construction will begin in 2017, MacAdam and Khalifa said.

He said it will be up to those who submit bids to determine what type of bridge will be built. He said rather than limiting the contractors, the designers are free to submit different styles of bridge construction, with West Virginia picking the final design. He said depending on cost considerations, the bridge could be a simple arch bridge or a cable-stayed bridge like the Veterans Memorial Bridge or some other type of span.

The bridge, heading into construction after about 20 years of planning and discussion, appears headed to take less than half the time it took to finally build the Veterans Memorial Bridge, which was first discussed in the 1950s but didn’t open until 1990.

Paprocki said part of the reason is that the new bridge doesn’t include a big highway project. The Veterans Memorial Bridge was part of the Weirton and Steubenville U.S. Route 22 bypass, which took decades to make it through community arguments over choosing a final alignment.

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