WHEELING, W.Va. — Sections of one of the busiest interstates in West Virginia will be shut down for months at a time starting in 2020 and into 2021.
Interstate-70 in Ohio County will be affected when work begins on the I-70 Bridges Project, a project that includes rehabilitation to approximately 25 bridges and full replacement of another in the county.
While the traffic concerns won’t be seen until primarily 2020 and beyond, Todd Rumbaugh, the Deputy State Highway Engineer said the 26 bridge project could begin as early as this year.
“We plan to take bids around July this year and look for some construction to possibly begin later this year,” he said in front of the state Senate Finance Committee earlier this week.
Rumbaugh said it will be up to the winning contractor for the project on exactly when construction would start but the smaller bridges should be getting worked on in the fall of this year. He said most of the work to start out would be underneath of the structures, thus not affecting traffic in 2019.
The project is broken down into several phases including west of the Wheeling Tunnel, east of the tunnel and then the replacement of the Fulton Bridge, which sits just east of the Wheeling Tunnel.
The work west of the tunnel will be started first. The Fulton Bridge project will start shortly and will cause the largest headache for traffic. There will be a projected shutdown of I-70 westbound in that area in 2020 due to that bridge replacement.
The WV Department of Transportation has scheduled the shutdown of those westbound lanes for nine months from February to October of 2020 where traffic will be detoured onto Interstate-470. Eastbound lanes on I-70 in that area are scheduled to be shut down from January to September in 2021 as the Fulton Bridge replacement continues, as traffic will also be detoured onto I-470.
Rumbaugh said they are forced to shut down the entire section of one direction of I-70 and cannot use one lane each way because of safety concerns around the tunnel area.
“There are so many structures and so many bridges in the area, he said. “It becomes a safety issue of being able to get them over to the other side and back because of the tunnel and the structures there, switching them back and forth.”
Rumbaugh was speaking in front of the Senate Finance Committee because of a satellite casino bill. The bill, that was killed in that committee, proposed the four regulated racetracks in the state to open satellite casinos in their home counties. Wheeling Island Casino sits right near the Wheeling Tunnels and Fulton Bridge where the interstate will be shut down in the coming years. This caused concern for traffic at the casino, thus creating a potential need for a second location.
Wheeling Island Casino would be effected only during the Fulton Bridge phase of the project, according to Rumbaugh. During the phases west of the tunnel, on the casino side, ramps will remain open for traffic to exit onto Wheeling Island, while work east of tunnel will have minimal, if any effect on the casino, Rumbaugh said.
“We are trying to work with them as much as possible,” Rumbaugh said of the casino. “We are trying to get a meeting schedule recently to obtain their peak hours to try and even minimize when we are out there doing work, for them.
“We are accelerating our bridge construction as much as possible. We have added additional traffic control and staging. For us, that means an added cost to the project but we are willing to do that to help them obtain access.”
Rumbaugh said they will also offer the winning bidders of the project some incentive clauses to try and get it completed quicker.
Wheeling Vice Mayor Chad Thalman knows that much of these three years of construction on the bridges in Ohio County will cause many headaches, like the casino situation, but it is something that is much needed.
“I have been all over the state the last few years and hands down, the state roads in Wheeling are the worst in the state,” he told MetroNews. “Wheeling approved the road bond by 88 percent. Ohio County had the highest percentage of any county in the entire state.”
“The citizens of Wheeling and Ohio County recognize that our state roads are in absolutely horrible condition and they must be replaced. It is going to be an inconvenience when the interstate is shut down but I think the people of Wheeling recognize it is something that needs to be done. It’s desperately needed. Once it is over, it is going to be well worth it.”
Rumbaugh said all traffic during the shutdowns of I-70 will be detoured to either I-470 or through other local routes and alternate routes to the casino and all businesses on Wheeling Island will be in place.