New bridge will be a shot in the arm

Our region received another shot in the arm Tuesday when ground was broken in Wellsburg for the new Ohio River bridge.

When construction on the structure is completed in 2021, the span will connect the southern ends of Brooke and Jefferson counties and help to open the surrounding areas on both sides of the river to new commercial and residential development.

It’s a project that has been many decades in making, W.Va . Gov. Jim Justice reminded those on hand Tuesday.

Support has come from the local grassroots level, from local governments, from the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Panning Commission, from the departments of transportation in Ohio and West Virginia and from the federal level — it was the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. and former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who secured $18 million for planning and initial construction.

The bridge will be a vital transportation link for our region — when it opens, it will fill the 50-mile crossing gap that exists between Steubenville and Wheeling. With sometimes-unstable hillsides on both sides of the river, the bridge will offer a possible detour route when either Ohio’s state Route 7 or West Virginia’s state Route 2 has to be closed.

Crews from the Flatiron Corp., the Broomfield, Colo.-based construction company that has secured the contract for the bridge, will utilize a construction method not often seen in this part of the country: The structure will be built off-site and transported to the location on barges, where the pieces will be lifted into place. According to the W.Va. Department of Transportation, it will be the heaviest structure to be lifted in such a way in the United States.

Designers of the bridge also have taken steps to encourage a healthier lifestyle for area residents. In addition to providing a river crossing for motorized vehicles, the bridge will contain a dedicated lane for bicyclists, who will be able to directly connect to the Brooke County Pioneer Trail.

Many years of planning and waiting will soon end when the bridge is completed, and that will be good news for the communities of Brilliant and Wellsburg and the surrounding areas in Jefferson and Brooke counties.