A vision finally realized

With the approval of $37 million through the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Committee, the new Ohio River bridge between Brilliant and Wellsburg is a go for motorists to be using as early as 2020.

The Ohio panel approved the money Jan. 28. It was one of only three major projects to receive approval statewide, the other two being the Interstate 70 Mall Road connection in Belmont County and the I-670 Youngstown beltway widening project.

It means Ohio Department of Transportation District 11 recieved two of three major projects for 2016, a feather in the cap for regional highway officals and local planners.

For the bridge, it means the culmination of two decades of planning that started not too long after the opening of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1990. That bridge had been mired in controversy over siting and construction going back to the 1950s, but local planners, including Mike Paprocki, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, notes the Veterans bridge wasn’t a stand-alone project. Its 40 years, or more, of planning included the siting and route selection for the U.S. Route 22 bypass of Steubenville and Weirton, where controversy ruled the day for a very long time.

The new bridge will connect Ohio state Route 7 at Brilliant to West Virginia state Route 2 just south of Wellsburg. Its potential presence and the benefits it could bring has brought on an annexation battle of sorts in the Northern Panhandle, with Wellsburg and Beech Bottom both seeking expansion toward the bridge. Local officials note, no matter which community ends up with more land, the bridge will vastly improve access for trucks serving the industrial park at Beech Bottom, being developed through the work of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle at the site of the former Wheeling Corrugating mill.

The total bridge project will cost between $120 and $140 million. Designers will be selected to compete for the project in the spring, and a design and contractor will be chosen later this year. The project will be managed through the West Virginia Division of Highways with participation from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The bridge will change travel patterns and make the area feel and look different. There will be, finally, a good, truck and heavy-traffic capable bridge between Steubenville-Weirton and Wheeling, providing a good alternative for drivers when Route 2 or Route 7 is jammed by the too-frequent rock slides or construction projects.

The road network will improve, and local planners, state and federal officials are all thanked for their efforts to get the project ready to go.