BHJ planning commission discusses Ohio River bridge

STEUBENVILLE – The Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission on Wednesday learned an environmental impact study for a new Ohio River bridge between Wellsburg and Brilliant has been released and heard about several upcoming road projects in the three counties.

BHJ Executive Director John Brown noted the Federal Highway Administration has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact for the proposed establishment of a bridge extending 1.2 miles south of Buffalo Creek near Wellsburg to an area about a half-mile north of the Riddles Run interchange off Ohio Route 7 near Brilliant.

The FONSI report cites studies commissioned by BHJ in 2000 and 2003 that found the proposed span would spur economic development on underused property in the two areas by providing another connection between Route 7 and West Virginia Route 2 and provide access between the states for emergency vehicles and regular traffic when areas of the highways are closed by landslides, floods or major accidents.

It states the bridge won’t have a major impact on farmland, wildlife, including endangered species; air or water quality and noise levels, among other factors. The report acknowledges the bridge will affect the river and an unnamed tributary near Brilliant but states steps will be taken to minimize the impact.

For example, the span must have a 1,000 foot clearance to allow barge traffic to pass beneath it, as stipulated by the U.S. Coast Guard.

It noted the Brooke County Pioneer Trail also would be closed during at least part of the project.

Brown noted funds must be secured for the span, which has an estimated cost of $120 million, but various options are being considered to accomplish that.

State highway officials have said the bridge may be funded through a partnership with a private entity, bonds backed by an anticipated future issue of federal funds, or both.

The new bridge has been named BHJ’s second transportation priority, with improving access to the Veterans Memorial Bridge the first.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation have made plans to replace the short turn lane from Ohio Route 7 at the intersection of University Boulevard with two lanes extending from an area just north of Garfield Elementary School and through the Brettell property at the southeast corner of the intersection. The estimated cost for the project is $8 million.

Asked about its status, Roxanne Kane, a metropolitan planning commission coordinator for ODOT, said highway officials are attempting to address concerns aired by officials with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad, which owns the railroad bridge above the intersection.

Mike Bair, ODOT’s liaison to BHJ, said railroad officials have asked for a high retaining wall to support the embankment over which the railroad extends.

In other business:

The commission elected Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham as its chairman. The group’s chair alternates between a resident of Ohio and West Virginia.

Graham thanked outgoing chairman, Marvin Six, who is assistant director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, for his leadership last year.

Bair said crews continue to excavate about 2 million cubic yards of the hillside above state Route 7 north of Rush Run Road in an effort to address slides and is expected to be done in November.

Bair said ODOT is awaiting easements for a small area south of it slated to be excavated later this year. He said trees along the hillside will be cleared first in April to deter long-eared bats, an endangered species, from populating the area.

New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil asked about efforts to address truck-related problems on state Route 2 in her city. She said she’s concerned that trucks could veer off the section of highway known as Ridge Avenue, over the hill and into homes below.

Dan Sikora, West Virginia Division of Highways assistant district engineer for construction, said there’s a crest in the highway’s southbound lane that causes trucks to veer left of center. He said highway officials are looking at leveling the road to correct that. He said that will involve repairs and full or partial repavement of the road.

Sikora said crews are slated to begin this month on a project at Route 2 and 22nd Street in Wellsburg.

To ease the flow of truck traffic into the new Eagle Manufacturing warehouse there, a left turn lane will be established and 22nd Street widened. A new traffic signal also will be installed there, and signals north and south of the area synchronized to correspond with it.

Bill Murray, WVDOT’s liaison to BHJ, reported crews with Ohio-West Virginia Excavating of Powhatan Point, Ohio will begin soon on a $1.2 million project to ease truck traffic into the Ergon plant south of Newell.

To accommodate the addition of a left turn lane there, the adjacent hillside will be excavated and a retaining wall build to support it. Streetlights also will be added to improve visibility, officials said.

Murray said James White Construction of Weirton has been awarded the next phase of improvements to Pennsylvania Avenue. The $4.4 million project will involve repaving the state road from 23rd Street to 11th Street and replacing curbs, sidewalks and drainage structures.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)