BRILLIANT, Ohio - A proposal for a new Ohio River bridge from Brilliant to an area of state Route 2 south of Wellsburg received mostly positive comments at a public meeting Monday at Buckeye North Elementary School.
Asked what she wanted to tell officials involved with the project, Brilliant resident Helen Mayle said, "Just get it done."
Mayle, who brought a 1967 newspaper article that suggested a span connecting the two communities, served on a committee of public officials and community members formed by the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission to oversee a study recommending the new span several years ago.
EXPRESSING INTEREST — Earl Richardson of Brilliant discusses a proposed new Ohio River bridge with Amy Staud, a traffic engineer with HDR Engineering of Weirton, at a public meeting Monday at Buckeye North Elementary School. Officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation will hold another public meeting on the proposed span from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Wellsburg Middle School. -- Warren Scott
Representatives of the West Virginia and Ohio departments of transportation and HDR Engineering of Weirton were on hand to answer questions about the proposed span, which would extend from the intersection of Third and Cleaver streets in Brilliant to West Virginia.
A connection at Third and Hudson streets had been considered, but residents at an earlier public meeting expressed concern about its proximity to the school, a park and a residential area.
In response, the engineers returned with a proposal calling for the bridge to connect at Third and Cleaver streets, with a new interchange leading drivers to Ohio Route 7. The system of ramps leading to and from Route 7 would replace the existing Riddles Run interchange.
Ahmed Mongi, a bridge engineer for the West Virginia Division of Highways, said the interchange accounts for much of the difference between the estimated cost for the Third and Hudson site, which was $97.84 million in 2011 dollars, and the Third and Cleaver site, which is $128 million in 2011 dollars.
The projections include costs for rights of way, which the engineers expect to be about the same for both scenarios.
Officials have said the new interchange could be added later, as money becomes available.
Amy Staud, a traffic engineer with HDR Engineering, said further study will determine traffic signals and turn lanes needed for traffic entering and exiting the bridge from Brilliant as well as the West Virginia side.
Staud said if the bridge were fully funded, it would take two years to design it and two to three years to build it.
Funding will be key issue, as no money has been allocated for the span's construction and the federal government has tightened its financial belt in recent years.
"Right now we have enough money to do engineering and right of way," said Mongi, referring to $18 million secured for the project by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; and the late senator Robert C. Byrd.
BHJ officials plan to seek more federal dollars for its construction but they concede the rules for doing that may have changed.
Mike Paprocki, BHJ transportation study director, said President Obama recently signed into law legislation, known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which allocates $105 billion for surface transportation programs for 2013-2014 but contains no congressional earmarks typically allocated for special projects such as the bridge.
He said BHJ and others will have to watch for further developments in federal transportation spending but also must consider other options.
Paprocki said one option would be charging a toll to those traveling the bridge.
West Virginia highway officials have backed away from toll roads or bridges in recent memory, though tolls still are charged at the Newell Bridge in Hancock County.
But new toll bridges aren't uncommon in many areas of the U.S. and drivers might be willing to pay a toll of possibly $1 if crossing the bridge will save them in gasoline, Paprocki said.
Margaret and Ralph Nickoson of Brilliant said they would be willing to pay the toll.
"I definitely feel we need the bridge. I think it would help both Wellsburg and Brilliant economically," said Margaret.
Ralph said there have been times when Route 7 north and south of Brilliant has been blocked by rock slides. While he knows how to reach the highway through New Alexandria, drivers not familiar with the area don't and some of the roads in that route are a bit windy for large trucks, he said.
Malcolm Fellows, a former Brilliant fire chief, said the bridge "could help EMS and firefighters, allowing departments from Brooke County to come here and vice versa."
"For years I've been thinking it (the proposed bridge) would be a good thing. It would make a quick trip across instead of a 25-minute one around."
Wells Township Trustee Larry Owens said the bridge's impact on Brilliant will be positive, albeit indirect. There is little land in Brilliant currently available for development, he said, but the span would benefit residents on both sides who work across the river and local students who attend Bethany College and West Liberty University.
"But I think it's going to be good for the valley. It's definitely needed, especially since it's lost one of the bridges," he said, referring to the demolition of the Fort Steuben Bridge earlier this year.
Brilliant resident Earl Richardson said he and others would welcome the easier access to Wheeling and Washington, Pa. as well as Wellsburg and the bridge could spur development at idled area steel plants.
"I just hope I'm still around when it's built," he said.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)