Ground broken for new bridge between Wellsburg and Brilliant

WELLSBURG — Ground broke Tuesday for a long-awaited bridge between Wellsburg and Brilliant.

The idea of a new Ohio River bridge, between the southern ends of Brooke and Jefferson counties, has been in the making for years, Gov. Jim Justice said as he presided over the groundbreaking ceremony.

“Eighteen years,” said Justice. “A lot of you have been at this for 18 years. I don’t know how you stood it for 18 years.”

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

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

Beech Bottom Mayor Becky Uhlly also said she was optimistic.

“(The bridge) is going open up the whole southern end of Brooke County for commercial and residential development,” she said.

The ceremony was held in an open lot behind the Smith Oil gas station. Nearly 100 workers with the Flatiron Corp. of Broomfield, Colo., are supposed 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 to allow residents to follow construction progress through the state Department of Transportation’s website.

The span itself will be transported by two barges down river to a point about a mile south of Wellsburg. They will be lowered onto piers from about 80 feet in the air with large jacks on the barges.

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.

When finished, the bridge will extend 1,600 feet across the river. It will touch down at the intersection of Third and Clever streets in Brilliant, not far from Ohio 7.

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

Plans call for the bridge 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 W.Va. 2, which would reduce the project’s cost.

Two turn lanes will be added to W.Va. 2 for vehicles entering the bridge.

Justice said the bridge is a collaboration of the West Virginia and Ohio departments of transportation. Both have drawn 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. 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 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 W.Va. 2 and Ohio 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.

“I’m just thrilled to death,” said Walter Ferguson, a member of that group, of the project’s groundbreaking. “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.”