WELLSBURG - At the second public meeting to gage opinion of a proposed new Ohio River bridge, representatives of the West Virginia Division of Highways and HDR Engineering of Weirton heard from residents who support the idea, though some said they were skeptical about its future.
Walter Ferguson, a long-time supporter of the project, said, "I am cautiously optimistic. I think it's moved forward to engineering and right of way and they plan to do that with the money Senators (Jay) Rockefeller and (the late Robert C.) Byrd appropriated. Our problem is funding and we're at the mercy of Congress and the state Legislature.
"Hopefully I will see it in my lifetime. At 75, it's doubtful," he said.
Ferguson is chairman of the Ohio River Bridge Task Force, a grassroots group formed to lobby support for the span. Its members have included state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, representatives of Bethany College and West Liberty University and other local officials and community members.
Officials with the state Division of Highways have conceded funding will be a key issue. They have suggested it may be more financially feasible to pursue the estimated $128 million project in phases.
If approved and funded, plans call the span to extend from an area of state Route 2 south of Wellsburg to Third and Cleaver streets in Brilliant. A new interchange would be built in the Riddles Run area south of Brilliant to take drivers to state Route 7.
But the project might be done in phases, with the interchange being done later, as funds become available.
Scott Boehm, a highway engineer with HDR Engineering, said the project would require about 2 million cubic yards, or 3.2 million tons, of the hillside along Route 2 to be excavated to accommodate the flow of traffic to and from the bridge in West Virginia.
Boehm said the excavation should be sufficient to allow space for four lanes of highway, but the additional lanes might not be built immediately though shorter turn lanes are likely.
A study commissioned several years ago by the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission found a new Ohio River bridge would be needed to accommodate current traffic levels if the Market Street or Fort Steuben bridges were closed and the latter has been removed.
A second study ordered by BHJ found a bridge at the southern ends of Brooke and Jefferson counties would support economic development, ease the flow of traffic for residents there and make either side accessible to firefighters and ambulance crews in the event or a rock slide or other emergency.
Many attending Tuesday's meeting agreed.
Ferguson said for those who want the span, this is the time for their voices to be heard.