By FRED CONNORS
Senior Staff Writer
WHEELING - The West Virginia Division of Highways intends to keep Interstate 70 traffic flowing through Wheeling during a proposed $80 million, eight-year bridge renovation project.
Work on all of the bridges on Interstate 70 in Ohio County is expected to begin in 2014.
District 6 acting engineer Dan Sikora said work should begin in spring 2014. Plans call for renovation of every bridge and overpass along I-70 between the Ohio and Pennsylvania state lines. Most spans will undergo total renovation, while others may be cleaned and painted, resurfaced, get new expansion joints or, in some cases, be replaced. Renovation may include work on the bridge deck, steel components of the substructure and superstructure and concrete piers.
While the work will create some traffic flow interruptions, Sikora said the goal is to minimize congestion.
"We have to do the work," he said. "At times that may require rebuilding one-half of a bridge at a time while maintaining traffic flow on the other half. We always have I-470 as a backup, but it is unlikely we will ever shut down I-70 entirely.
"As a construction engineer, I think an ideal situation would be to shut the entire road down and do all the work at the same time within a shorter time frame," he said. "But that option is unlikely because we would have to have all the funding available as needed."
He said federal dollars and state matching funds are allocated on a yearly basis, so the bridge renovation project must be spread over several years as the money becomes available.
According to Sikora, work should begin on the eastbound lanes of I-70 starting at the east end of the Wheeling Tunnel.
"This work will most likely be done in one direction at a time," he said. "We probably will use switchover lanes or direct traffic to I-470 as an alternative. We won't know what the traffic control plan will be until the complete project design is completed."
He said WVDOH is the process of selecting project design consultants to complete plans for the work.
"They will come up with a construction plan that will include a comprehensive traffic control plan," he said.
Sikora said actual costs and work completion dates compiled by the department's design team are "moving targets" because of the time span involved.
"We only have so much money to work with," he said. "If an emergency develops, we may have to take money from one project and move it to another one."
That means work being planned now could be delayed.
He said two cost factors that could negatively impact the project would be inflation and increased deterioration from now until work begins.
The Wheeling Tunnel project suffered from both factors - work began four years after completion of the initial design plan, leading to higher bids from contractors because of the increased scope of work.
Sikora said the interstate bridges - built in the mid-1960s and carrying a daily traffic count of 29,000 vehicles - are safe but showing their age.