WELLSBURG, W.Va. — Officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation said Wednesday they hope to begin construction of a new Ohio River bridge in 2016, but noted there’s still more work to be done before that can occur.
News that the proposed span between Brilliant and an area just south of Wellsburg is slated for construction in 2016, and that an interstate agreement for the span has been signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was delivered Wednesday by West Virginia Commissioner of Highways Paul Mattox; Lloyd MacAdam, Ohio Department deputy district director; and Greg Bailey, a state highway engineer for the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
The news received applause from local residents and public officials, many from Wellsburg, Beech Bottom and southern areas of Brooke County, and a few from Brilliant, who gathered at the Brooke County Public Library.
Outlining the project’s timeline, Bailey said, “2015 will be a year of design activities and right of way acquisition,” but said pending these and other factors, “some time in 2016 you actually will see dirt moving.”
He said WVDOT officials hope the span can be completed in about three years.
“We’re working really hard to keep this project on schedule,” he said.
The WVDOT officials brought with them two maps of the proposed span.
Bailey noted one map called for the bridge to touch down at Third and Cleaver streets in Brilliant and the other for it to connect to a diamond interchange leading bridge traffic to Ohio Route 7.
Bailey said the interchange could be built in the future and the bridge won’t need to be modified to accommodate it.
MacAdam said construction of the interchange will depend on funding.
Beech Bottom Mayor Becky Uhlly asked if there are plans to expand West Virginia Route 2 to four lanes near the span.
Bailey said he’s not aware of any current plans for expansion except to add turn lanes for the bridge.
“Whether that happens or not has no bearing on this project,” he said.
Bailey noted plans call for the bridge to consist of three lanes, including a center turn lane, which may be used for through traffic when the bridge is being inspected or repaired.
He said the decision was based on current traffic levels, but there will be space on the 48-foot-wide deck to accommodate a fourth lane.
John Brown, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, asked if the new span will include a path for bicyclists.
The question was raised at a recent BHJ meeting by Mike Paprocki, transportation study director with the planning commission and chairman of the Jefferson County Trails and Greenways Task Force.
Bailey and others with WVDOT said the span will include the path with a link extending along Route 2 to the Brooke County Pioneer Trail below.
The plan was applauded by Ruby Greathouse, a leader of the Brooke County Pioneer Trail Association.
Asked how much ODOT will commit financially to the project, MacAdam said that will depend on its final cost but Ohio’s contribution has been estimated at 30 to 35 percent.
The cost has been estimated at $105 million, with an additional $20 million estimated for the interchange.
Mattox said WVDOT hopes to fund the project through a public-private partnership.
Used in other states, such arrangements allow government entities to team with private entities in funding projects for which public funds aren’t currently available. In August, West Virginia lawmakers approved legislation supporting such partnerships, and the construction of a 3.3 mile section of the Coalfields Expressway in Wyoming County is the West Virginia project eyed for one.
Mattox said in this case, WVDOT hopes to enter an agreement to pay the contractor in installments, as public funds become available.
Bailey said a preliminary field review will be done this month to determine property easements that will be needed to accommodate the bridge.
Officials with both departments didn’t have data Wednesday on the number of easements that will be needed. They acknowledged both departments have some easements for property near routes 2 and 7.
Highway officials said core drilling on both sides of the river to determine the placement of piers and abutments is slated for spring.
Bailey said some excavation of the hillside along Route 2 will be needed to accommodate the project, but how much hasn’t been determined.
Bailey applauded local officials and residents for their efforts to encourage the project.
“You guys here really accomplished a lot,” he said.
Walter Ferguson of Wellsburg said of the news, “I’m elated. It’s a dream come true. Infrastructure is vital to the economy of the Northern Panhandle.”
Ferguson was a member of a grassroots group formed to promote the bridge, and later a committee of residents and public officials formed by BHJ to recommend a site following two studies commissioned by BHJ.
The Wellsburg-Brilliant location was recommended because the bridge will provide access between the states for emergency vehicles and regular traffic when areas of the highways are closed by landslides, floods or major accidents and it’s believed the span will spur economic development in the two areas.
Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis thanked Mattox and others for supporting the new bridge and for renovations in recent years to the Market Street Bridge.
He also asked the status of that bridge’s blue horizontal lights, which were a part of the improvements and very well received but have been shut off.
Mattox said WVDOT received complaints from barge pilots and others traveling on the river that the lights interfered with their navigational lights. He said the lights have been turned off for their safety, but WVDOT is working on a way for authorized river navigators to deactivate the lights until they have passed the span.