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Crews Returning to I-70 Bridges Project Following Extended Break

Photo by Scott McCloskey – Motorists travel on I-70 East near the Wheeling Tunnel Friday. Swank Construction is expected to close this section of the highway in early February as work resumes on the east side of the Fulton Bridges.

WHEELING — Motorists should expect to see Swank Construction crews out working once again on the $215 million I-70 Bridges Project in Ohio County by the end of January, according to West Virginia Division of Highways Area Engineer Mike Witherow. That return comes after a several-week break over the holidays.

The nearly three-year highway project is entering its “second phase” following the nine-month closure and reopening of the westbound Fulton Bridges section of the highway in 2020. Swank crews are expected to begin working again over the coming weeks in the numerous “phase construction” areas throughout the project, according to Witherow.

He said the break in work was scheduled to take place during Oglebay Park’s Winter Festival of Lights to help minimize traffic backups. Crews are expected to continue preparing for the scheduled closure of the eastbound side of the Fulton bridges, expected to happen in early February.

Witherow said they will have a better idea of the closure date of the Fulton bridges section of the interstate in a few weeks. He said there are still some “activities” associated with that section of the project which require “decent weather” before they can close.

“They will be kind of switching phases as they get back to working through it. But initially, you’ll see that closure in the Fulton area, and then you will see some changes in traffic patterns over on the west side of the tunnel with the back channel and Fort Henry (Bridge),” Witherow explained. “We’ll try to wrap up some steel repairs and some miscellaneous work on those two structures. Once we get that done the contractor will get ready to switch traffic over to the newly constructed portion so that we can begin work on the eastbound structures.”

Witherow said the eastbound “local detour” will look similar to what the westbound detour looked like. Motorists traveling I-70 East across the Fort Henry will exit onto Main Street in downtown, turn left onto 10th Street, before continuing east on National Road over Wheeling Hill and through Fulton to Mount de Chantal Road.

Witherow said while the eastbound side of the Fulton Bridges section is scheduled to be completed and reopened by this fall, the overall project is expected to continue at various “phase construction” locations into the fall of 2022.

“The focal point of this project has been the closure of the Fulton Bridges … so you get the sense it is a two-year project, when it’s actually three,” Witherow said.

He added there is always the possibility that the contractor could get ahead of schedule and maybe wrap up a little ahead of schedule.

“But it’s too early to tell,” Witherow said. “There is quite a bit of work to go.”

Witherow said while there’s still a lot of pieces to the puzzle to complete. Swank is “setting themselves up to be successful on this project and complete it on time,” he added. He said he expects the contractor will paint the second half of the Fort Henry Bridge sometime later this year following the return of warm weather.

DOH District 6 Engineer Tony Clark also recently praised the efforts of Swank Construction moving the project forward on schedule, and in some cases ahead of schedule. He said he continues to be astounded by the amount of progress the general contractor made in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and despite other challenges on such a major project.

Clark said the total replacement of the Fulton Bridges spans is the largest phase of the entire project.

The I-70 Bridges Project includes the rehabilitation of 26 bridges on I-70 in Ohio County over a nearly three-year construction schedule, with the full replacement of several spans. All the rehabilitation work includes building new decks or overlaying an existing deck and making any necessary steel or substructure repairs.

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