WELLSBURG, W.Va. — Two major construction projects in the Northern Panhandle that have been going on for several years are scheduled to be completed around the same time in this upcoming fall.
Tony Clark, the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) District 6 Engineer told MetroNews he expects the Wellsburg Bridge to be open to motorists and Interstate-70 through Ohio County to have the much-anticipated bridge makeover done around November.
The $214 million Ohio County bridges project began in 2019 and is slated to bring 26 new bridges to Interstate-70 through the county. The $131 million project of the Wellsburg Bridge also began in 2019 when the bridge, that connects Wellsburg to Brillant, Ohio, was built on the shoreline of the West Virginia side of the Ohio River. Construction projects of this scale usually require a concrete pumping service and several types of heavy equipment such as an aerial lift rental.
Clark detailed both projects to MetroNews, on what still needs to be done and what has been done leading up to the final year of work.
It what many officials called an ‘engineering marvel,’ the 830-foot main span of the bridge was floated down the Ohio River and lifted onto its pilings in April 2021. The historic float, West Virginia’s first alternative delivery project, followed the construction of the span by Flatiron Construction along the banks of the Ohio River.
Since the bridge was lifted into its pilings, Clark said crews have finished rebar and formwork for the approach decks to the bridge, leading up to the arch on the Ohio side. He said since construction season was coming to an end before this winter, crews continues backfilling and creating a large retaining wall.
Clark said crews will continue in the coming weeks to pour and form a concrete cap across the top of the wall to make it one uniformed piece. He said pouring of concrete will also be done for the first approach span deck on the West Virginia side of the river.
Clark said the decks on the Ohio side have been poured. He added that most of the visible work currently happening is on the Ohio side of the bridge.
“They are working on the foundations and abutments of the bridge that will bridge over Ohio Route 7 because coming across the new bridge, it will tie into 3rd Street into Brilliant. It has to go over Ohio Route 7 to tie into 3rd Street,” Clark said.
As part of the project, West Virginia Route 2 is expected to become three lanes for a stretch around the bridge. Clark previously said there will be a middle lane to turn out onto northbound Route 2 if a motorist is turning off the bridge. He also added that coming from the south to north, going onto the bridge, there will be a lane to turn onto the bridge.
The project is a collaboration between the DOH and the Ohio Department of Transportation, Clark said, but the contract is handled through the DOH.
Since the project slowed down over the winter, the completion date was pushed back from October to November of this year. Clark said the winter weather did not help crews, along with the COVID-19 pandemic and equipment/material availability.
The Wellsburg Bridge idea was pushed for years, according to Clark, and was a dream of former Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti who passed away on March 31, 2021.
Currently, motorists in a passenger vehicle traveling along West Virginia Route 2 or Ohio Route 7 can cross the Ohio River between Ohio and West Virginia on the Fort Henry Bridge in Wheeling or the Market Street Bridge, north of Follansbee and into Steubenville, Ohio. The distance between those two bridges is roughly 25 miles.
Ohio County bridges project
One of the largest construction rehabilitation projects ever seen in the Wheeling area, which has completely shut down both eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate-70 at times, is scheduled to only have months left.
Clark said the good news about the upcoming 2022 work is most work will not be visible and will not cause the major traffic headaches seen in 2020 and 2021.
“A lot of the work this year will be on the substructure, various concrete repairs and that kind of stuff. Work that isn’t going to be as visible. We are still going to have lane closures, lanes shifting so crews can get in there and do the work that is needed,” he told MetroNews.
Clark noted crews, from Swank Construction, will spend time underneath bridges for projects that could not be done until the new concrete decks were in place. He mentioned the touch-up work included steel repair, painting and permanent signage replacement.
The complete overhaul saw complete tear-downs of interstate from the Fort Henry Bridge going over the Ohio River, to the Elm Grove section of Wheeling, to work close to the Pennsylvania line. In 2021, Interstate-70 eastbound was closed from Exit 1B, the U.S. 250/W.Va. Rt. 2-16th Street exit, to Exit 2A, the Oglebay Park exit. In 2020, the westbound lanes in the same area were closed for nine months.
Exits have also been closed for several months at a time during the project. Clark noted some ramp closures may still take place in 2022 but doesn’t expect for long.
Clark said a portion of the project at Elm Grove continues to be the largest issue for DOH officials. He said crews have shifted lanes several times in the area to do a concrete deck, but it has taken away a merge lane on Interstate-70 westbound. Motorists have to pull up, stop and ‘shoot out’ onto the lanes, according to Clark. He hopes that portion is finished in the next month or so.
Motorists are asked to remain alert and pay attention to the new traffic patterns.
Clark admitted this project came with anxiety during the complete closures of the major interstate artery and in some portions blocking common access to services such as hospitals and schools.
“That is a huge sigh of relief that that is behind us. We did not have any major issues,” Clark said.
“There will be some ramp closures here and there this year. Just them finishing up little things in various places. Definitely nothing long term and we are in the home stretch here.”