PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce is now turning his attention to establishing a list of requirements for potential future bidders on the Memorial Bridge, the toll bridge that connects Parkersburg directly to Belpre, Ohio via the Ohio River.
This week, the Wood County Commission voted not to take over bridge control despite an option for as much.
It was a decision that did not surprise Mayor Joyce.
“They can’t afford to recapitalize a bridge any more than the City of Parkersburg can and that’s the whole motivation as to why we, in the City of Parkersburg, are exploring the divesting of this bridge,” he explained.
Plans call for the Memorial Bridge to eventually be sold at auction.
It’s in good shape now, deemed structurally sound with maintenance up-to-date and ridership on the rise in recent years.
However, estimates have indicated the Memorial Bridge will need to be replaced within the next 20 to 25 years at a cost that’s projected between $60 million and $80 million or more.
“There are no guarantees in anything we do in government or life. Period,” Joyce said. “But I can guarantee you this — the City of Parkersburg does not now, nor will it ever, have the means to recapitalize that bridge.”
The Memorial Bridge first opened with two lanes for traffic in January 1955.
The regular tolls are .50 per passenger vehicle. The money generated, about $1.8 million annually, is used to pay for the bridge’s existing operations and maintenance.
“There are folks out there who do this kind of stuff,” Joyce said of potential buyers which could include the state or private entities.
Under state law, the state Public Service Commission has authority over toll bridges, so PSC permission would be required for any sale.
However, the exact process for seeking that authorization is not clear.
“It’s not something that we do routinely. It’s not like selling a ten-year-old police cruiser or a 20-year-old parks and recreation utility vehicle of some sort,” Joyce said.
“It’s not just like any other asset. It has a vital importance to the economy of not just Parkersburg, but really the entire Mid-Ohio Valley.”
Ideally, Mayor Joyce told MetroNews he would like to see movement on the Memorial Bridge sale before the end of the 2019 calendar year.