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Prep work for $17.9M Wheeling Suspension Bridge rehab to begin soon

Scott McCloskey PREP WORK — Advantage Steel & Construction, LLC is expected to begin the preliminary phases of the Wheeling Suspension Bridge project this fall.

WHEELING — With a bid officially awarded to repair and rehabilitate the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, what’s next for the historic structure?

While preliminary work on the span is expected to begin over the coming weeks, the heavy construction work is expected to take place during the 2022 construction season, said West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Engineer Tony Clark. Work is tentatively scheduled to wrap up on June 30, 2023.

It was just a few weeks ago that Gov. Jim Justice and the West Virginia Division of Highways announced the bridge project was awarded to Advantage Steel & Construction, LLC for $17,907,147. Work includes repairs to the bridge’s superstructure and substructure, replace any damaged suspension cables, renovate lighting and clean and paint the span.

The preliminary work should happen soon, Clark said, because the contractor needs time to get the material. Procuring that is the biggest issue in the industry, as getting materials, especially cables, calls for a lead time of 30 to 40 weeks.

“If they (the contractor) haven’t done it already, they’ll be doing it very soon,” Clark said. “The first thing they’re doing is to get out on the bridge and get measurements for the cables they need.

“That’s their first plan of action is to get out there and get all those measurements taken and all the materials ordered since there’s such a lag time,” he added.

The most prominent move residents should see this year, Clark said, is the contractor putting lightweight platforms under the entire bridge.

“It looks like the bulk of the work will take place the next calendar year starting in the spring, depending on the winter we have,” Clark explained.

He said the contractor expects to perform much of the heavier work, such as replacing the cables during the summer and fall of 2022, once they begin to receive the materials they ordered. Clark said the time frame on the heavier work may shift some depending on when they actually receive the materials.

“Most likely they’ll get out there next year and do the bulk of the work and maybe finish some stuff up the following spring,” Clark said. “However, if they have material issues … it could push beyond the completion date, it just depends on the markets and when they’re able to get the materials they need.”

DOH officials won’t know if the structure will be able to reopen to vehicular traffic until the contractor actually begins work on the anchor vaults where the cables are secured beneath ground at both ends of the structure, according to Clark.

In December 2020, WVDOH rejected a single bid on the project that was far more than the DOH engineering estimate. The bridge has been closed to vehicles since the fall of 2019 after drivers repeatedly ignored DOH weight restrictions and warnings on the structure. A Coach USA Lenzer bus exceeding the bridge’s two-ton weight limit crossed 1,300-foot span on June 29, 2019, causing damage to the structure. It was reopened and closed several times before it was closed indefinitely to vehicular traffic in September of 2019.

The bridge was first opened in 1849. It was originally part of the National Road, the first major improved highway in the United States that ran from Maryland to Illinois. In 1980, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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