STEUBENVILLE - The proposed new Ohio River bridge has passed another hurdle, with the Federal Highway Administration ruling the span wouldn't have a major negative impact on the area for which it's targeted.
John Brown, executive director of the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, said he received news the FHA has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, a document needed for the project to move forward, from Bill Murray, the West Virginia Department of Transportation's liaison to BHJ.
Brown joked he "wanted to hug Bill when he told me that."
The finding comes following a study done by HDR Engineering of Weirton to determine the bridge's impact on areas in Brilliant and south of Wellsburg where officials hope to build the span.
Plans call for the bridge to extend from West Virginia Route 2 about a mile south of Buffalo Creek to the Riddles Run interchange off Ohio Route 7 in Brilliant.
The engineers have suggested establishing a new diamond interchange in Brilliant that would connect the intersection of Third and Cleaver streets with Route 7.
The existing interchange ramps would be removed, and other changes may be made, such as adding turn lanes and traffic signals, to ease the flow of traffic.
Supporters of the project have said it would support economic development in the southern ends of the two counties and provide another link between the two states during emergencies, such as rock slides that have caused areas of the two highways to be closed at times.
Brown said with still more steps head, area residents may not see a bridge being built until 2025.
But he said both an engineering contract for the span's design and agreement between West Virginia and Ohio on the sharing of costs are expected by the end of the year.
WVDOT officials have been negotiating with HDR Engineering for the bridge's design.
Both states have contributed to studies supporting the new bridge, but it's not been determined how much each will allot for the span, which has an estimated cost of $120 million. West Virginia has assumed most of the cost for the Veterans Memorial Bridge because the river is part of that state.
State highway officials have said the bridge may be funded through 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. The first is improving access to the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Officials with the Ohio Department of Transportation have made plans to replace the short turn lane from state 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 changes were suggested to ease the flow of traffic onto the bridge and reduce collisions at the busy intersection.
The project also involves the extension of LaBelle Avenue, the access road for the Steubenville Marina, so it will run parallel to Route 7 and to the intersection where the new turn lanes begin.
The extension was suggested to prevent vehicles entering LaBelle Avenue from being backed into Route 7 while waiting for a train to pass.
In other business, Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne voiced concerns about the intersection of state Routes 2 and 27.
Dan Sikora, West Virginia Division of Highways assistant district engineer for construction, said the division has video of large trucks veering into the parking lot of the H&R Block office and River City Cafe while attempting to turn from Route 27 into the southbound lane of Route 2.
Sikora said the division is investigating the possibility of obtaining a right of way at the southeast corner, where a vacant building and utility pole sit, so the intersection could be widened. But he said the project hasn't been approved at this time.
The utility pole was damaged in an accident that involved a car traveling south on Route 2.
Henne also asked about the status of a new traffic signal slated for the intersection of Route 2 and 22nd Street. The signal and changes to traffic signals north and south of it are intended to aid trucks in entering the new Eagle Manufacturing warehouse there.
Sikora said he would check on the project.
New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil also raised concerns about truck traffic in her city. McNeil said heavier truck traffic on Route 2 there has caused the highway and an embankment along it to deteriorate.
She said she's concerned about that and the freezing and thawing of earth that occurs over winter causing the bank to come down on homes below.
Sikora said a study of the area was done and several options were found, all of them with an estimated cost of $2 million to $4 million, but he suggested McNeil share her concerns with Tom Badgett, the new district administrator.
Mike Paprocki, BHJ transportation study director, said he will meet with McNeil and Badgett to discuss the problem.
Also at Wednesday's BHJ meeting:
Paprocki said U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Tom Graves, R-Georgia, have introduced a bill that would gradually eliminate federal funding for transportation projects. They and other supporters of the bill, which has been dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act, have said it would lower the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents per gallon.
But Paprocki and others said state and local officials can't afford to maintain or improve aging highways and bridges without federal support. He noted the recent pavement of University Boulevard and the John Scott Highway and the expansion of the carpool parking lot near Ohio Routes 7 and 213 were supported with $2.6 million in federal funds.
Paprocki applauded the efforts of Steve Bevan, an intern from the University of Cincinnati, in establishing a Facebook page for the Jefferson County Trails and Greenways program to promote awareness of the group's efforts to build a network of trails.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)