Throughout the U.S., bridges are at the end of their lifespan, leading to lengthy repairs, longer commute times, and severed connections between communities.
That was the case with the towns of Brilliant, Ohio and Wellsburg, W.Va. Separated by the Ohio River, residents in each community had to drive 25 miles out of their way to visit the other town. The two nearest bridges that kept these towns connected were well past their design life.
To fix the issue, the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) launched a four-year project to construct a new bridge and restore the connection between these two towns.
The vision: a new bridge that spanned 830 feet across the Ohio River with connections to Ohio Route 7 and West Virginia Route 2. This new bridge would drastically reduce the travel time between the towns. Not only would a vital connection be restored, but officials also expected economic growth to spur in the area.
The work consisted of a tied-arch main-span bridge, five approach spans, an additional bridge that crosses Route 7, and the rehabilitation and realignment of Route 2.
The Route 2 realignment included interchanges on both sides of the bridge and improvements such as utilities relocation and railway coordination.
Building the bridge in place challenged the project team because it would affect traffic on the Ohio River (one of the busiest rivers in the country) for months. However, Flatiron, the contractor, proposed building permanent piers at the project site. They used a temporary trestle projecting from the bank as crews constructed a network tied-arch structure off-site.
The project team decided the best solution was constructing the bridge on the Wellsburg shoreline and floating it down river.
WVDOT saw this as a safer and more accessible solution, keeping extended construction out of the water. This condensed the effects on the river into a single weekend rather than throughout the course of construction.
However, this solution didn’t come without its share of challenges.
With the network tied-arch structure weighing over 4,000 tons, this was the heaviest floating bridge lift executed in the United States. Coupled with the height of the bridge, this structure was going to require special ocean-going barges to support it.
Tugboats hauled four barges roughly 1,200 miles, from the Mississippi River to Wellsburg. The barges were fortified with grillage that held the massive jacking towers. The towers supported the bridge and lifted it onto the permanent piers.
The project team coordinated with the Coast Guard and local river authorities. This coordination was crucial, and it began months before executing the floating operation.
Back on land, realigning and reconstructing Route 2 took place, with crews widening it to four lanes, providing safer travel for motorists. Crews constructed a mile-long pile and panel retaining wall. This forward-thinking approach provides additional capacity for future expansions.
Part of the area along Route 2 is prone to rock falls. The retaining wall had a ditch designed to catch rocks falling from the roadway, helping prevent rock spalls and mudslides. WVDOT took the mantle of responsibility in clearing the catchment area of any debris.
With all the work put into this project, crews were able to finish construction in late 2022. The bridge’s grand opening was on Sept. 20, 2023; it opened to motorists the following day.
Flatiron attributed the success of the project to meticulous planning.
The Wellsburg Bridge is a testament to people coming together in order to restore lost connections and making them better than they were before.
“Flatiron is honored to have played a role in this highly impactful project,” said Jim Schneiderman, Flatiron senior vice president for the Mid-Atlantic. “The new Wellsburg Bridge connects two great communities — enabling drastically shortened commutes for locals, allowing for faster emergency response and strengthening the potential for economic growth in these beautiful Ohio River communities.
“We had a great collaborative relationship with the West Virginia Department of Highways and the Ohio Department of Transportation. And, we thank the residents of Wellsburg, West Virginia, and Brilliant, Ohio, for their unwavering support. For Flatiron, this is more than a functional, beautiful bridge, it is a structure that will enhance the lives of many for years to come.” RB
Project: Wellsburg Bridge
Location: Brilliant, Ohio and Wellsburg, West Virginia
Owners: West Virginia Department of Transportation
Designer: RS&H, supported by COWI North America and TRC Engineers
Contractor: Flatiron Constructors, Inc.
Length: 830 feet
Completion Date: October 2022