Making New Bridges Last

A $214.65-million contract has been awarded for a massive repair and replacement project on Interstate 70 bridges in Ohio County. Let’s do it right, even if a few million dollars have to be added to the total.

Gov. Jim Justice was in Wheeling this week to announce the contract,with the Swank Construction Co. of New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Swank was the low bidder for the work — this time around.

It will be recalled that last summer, when the Division of Highways first sought bids for I-70 work, they came in far above estimates. State officials went back to the drawing board, revised the project, and cut about $61 million from the price tag. That was accomplished by reducing plans for I-70 paving and by having the DOH do its own engineering work.

Completing the project, expected to take about three years, will result in a traffic congestion migraine headache. That, combined with the cost, makes it imperative that the replaced/rebuilt bridges last for many decades before they need major work again.

As major bridges go, those carrying I-70 between Ohio and Pennsylvania have done reasonably well. The Fort Henry Bridge was completed in 1955. Others in the series of spans are between 50-60 years old. A certain amount of deterioration is to be expected during that many years.

But some bridges are in much worse condition than others. While most of the 25 bridges involved in the project can be rebuilt, two just east of the Wheeling Tunnel will require replacement. For one reason or another, Father Time was not kind to them.

Why? Were corners cut when they were constructed? Was preventive maintenance lacking over the years? Could a few additional dollars spent on initial erection or ongoing maintenance have made the bridges last longer?

If the answer to any of the questions is “yes,” DOH officials should consider amending contracts to increase the I-70 bridges’ longevity — as well as ensuring corners are not cut on maintenance in the future.

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