Massive Bridge Project Looms

WHEELING – As the West Virginia Division of Highways prepares for a massive $100 million project to repair every Interstate 70 bridge between the Ohio and Pennsylvania state lines, the big question is whether the resulting headache for motorists will more resemble an intense but fleeting migraine, or a dull, nagging pain that doesn’t seem to want to leave.

Although the tentative project schedule calls for work to begin in mid-2014 and last for about eight years, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said state officials haven’t ruled out a plan that would see the work completed in about one-fourth the time – but would require closures of entire sections of the highway.

During his State of the City address this week, McKenzie relayed information from a recent meeting between Wheeling officials, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox in Charleston during which those options were discussed. The two-year option would force interstate traffic to detour onto Interstate 470 or National Road. The slower plan would use only lane restrictions to divert motorists around work areas.

Late last year, District 6 acting engineer Dan Sikora said “it’s unlikely we will ever shut down I-70 entirely.” DOH spokeswoman Carrie Bly said the options are still being considered, but noted the closure of entire sections of I-70 would be a drastic step.

“Speaking very generally, shutting down a major interstate is hard to do,” she said. “Sometimes it’s better to take it slower.”

According to highways officials, the interstate bridges are safe but are approaching 50 years in age, and showing it.

“Those bridges really need repaired … the sooner, the better. … There’s going to be a lot of work there,” said District 6 Bridge Engineer Dave Sada.

McKenzie – recalling the traffic nightmare that resulted when renovations to the Wheeling Tunnel took over two years longer than expected, and more recently in 2012 when overlapping work on Interstates 70 and 470 caused frustrating traffic jams – stressed the importance of keeping the inconvenience to motorists as minimal as possible.

He said city leaders want to see the work completed as quickly as possible, but above all, they want it to be done right.

Sada provided the following tentative timeline for various phases of the bridge work to begin, noting it’s still subject to change because project consultants just received the green light to start design work:

— Replacement of the westbound bridge over Fulton – June 2014

— Renovation of the first westbound bridge east of the Wheeling Tunnel – January 2015

— Renovation of the westbound bridge over Mount de Chantal Road – January 2015

— Renovation of the first eastbound bridge east of the tunnel – January 2016

— Renovation of the entrance ramp from U.S. 250 north to I-70 west and the exit ramp from I-70 west to U.S. 250 south – January 2016

— Replacement of the eastbound bridge over Fulton – January 2016

— Renovation of the bridge over the Ohio River’s back channel – June 2016

— Renovation of the eastbound bridge over Elm Grove – May 2017

— Renovation of the eastbound bridge over Middle Creek – June 2017

— Renovation of the westbound bridge over Middle Creek – June 2018

— Renovation of the Fort Henry Bridge – June 2018