Wellsburg Bridge Officially Opens with Ribbon Cutting Celebration

A wait that spanned more than a century, according to some accounts, is now over with the opening of the bridge that connects Wellsburg and Brilliant, OH.
Dedication of the unnamed $131 million structure Wednesday drew large crowds from both sides of the river and preceded use of the bridge by vehicular traffic by a day.
The bridge, commonly referred to as the Wellsburg Bridge, has no official name because that will take an action of the West Virginia Legislature, which is expected to occur early next year.
The ribbon-cutting ceremonies drew Gov. Jim Justice and Dept. of Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston as well as a host of local and regional officials in both states.
Work began on the new bridge in 2019 and is just now being completed.
One of the last tasks was installation of a bracket to hold the U. S. Flag that was prominently displayed from the bridge during Wednesday’s festivities.
“This is more than just a bridge connecting two communities, I mean it’s metal, it’s concrete and it’s steel cables, but the bridge connects the whole area there in the Northern part of West Virginia,” said Randy Damron, events director for the DOT.
He recalled that the construction involved the huge undertaking of moving of the 830-foot main stretch of the bridge to be placed into position by Flatiron Construction of Broomfield, CO. That turned out to be the largest floating bridge project ever attempted in North America.
The process involved two pairs of barges and took 13½ hours to complete on April 26, 2021.
Once there, the 4,100-ton structure was lifted by large, hydraulic jacks onto its piers 80 feet above the water.
From there, its 60-foot deck and connections to its West Virginia and Ohio approaches were completed.
Flatiron built the bridge on land just north of the Smith Oil station and then floated it into position, and then access ramps were built to both sides.
In all, the structure spans 1,893 feet, including the access ramps.
Following the ceremony, a big festival organized by the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce got underway on the bridge that included a car show, food trucks and live performances by the bands Poor Man’s Heaven and The Next, along with Brooke County High School’s choral group’s performance of “Country Roads.”
“This was more than just, I don’t want to say a typical ribbon-cutting, but to the governor this is so important that we get this bridge open, and so it has taken on a life of its own. I even referred to it once, this is almost like a county fair when you take into consideration everything going on,” said Damron.
Traffic is expected to reach 3,000 vehicles a day on the new bridge.
The Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission provided the impetus for the span as far back as 1998.
Talk of a link between the southern ends of Brooke and Jefferson counties, however, dates to the 1920’s as officials have considered a bridge for the area where a ferry transported many between Wellsburg and Brilliant between 1918-48.
Brooke County residents employed by the Cardinal Power Plant were sometimes known to row boats to their workplace.
But the advancing age of the Fort Steuben and Market Street bridges led local officials and community representatives with the BHJ to push for a new river crossing in 1998.
The Fort Steuben bridge was demolished in 2012 and the Market Street Bridge underwent $16.5 million in renovations in 2011 to extend its life.
The span had long been closed to truck traffic, and last week its weight limit was reduced further to 3 tons.
A 2000 study noted that if the Veterans Memorial Bridge, completed in 1990, would be closed even temporarily, the closest river crossings are 25 miles north and south.
A second study in 2003 considered several locations for the proposed new span, with a link between Brilliant and an area south of Wellsburg receiving the most support from a committee of about 30 public officials and community members appointed to the task.
The ability to divert traffic to a river crossing when state Routes 2 or 7 were closed by rock slides, a recurring problem in those areas, and opportunities for economic development on both sides of the river were among reasons cited for the choice.
Brooke County officials have pointed to available space at the Beech Bottom Industrial Park and unused land between the river and Route 2 for growth opportunities.
Public comment also was accepted at meetings held in 2012 at the former Wellsburg Middle School and Buckeye North Elementary School.
Both departments of transportation contributed to the cost of the two studies, and each state also has provided funds for the $131 million development and construction of the new bridge.
Since West Virginia has the Ohio River within its border it provided 65 percent of the money, while Ohio provided 35 percent.
Both used federal money allocated for transportation projects.
Former U. S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller had secured $18 million in federal money for its planning and construction.
State highway officials have stated a paved link from the bridge to Wellsburg’s Yankee Trail is expected to be completed in November
The official name for the bridge will be decided by the West Virginia Legislature, though many residents have had some input into it.
State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said the bridge’s name will be determined through a resolution adopted by the legislature, which will reconvene in January.
To date, it’s been referred to most frequently as the Wellsburg Bridge, the name officials with the West Virginia Dept. of Transportation called it when they advertised the $131 million project in 2015.
Weld solicited suggestions and said there are other contenders.
They include:
•The Pioneer Bridge, suggested by former Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis. Ennis said the name is appropriate not just because a bicycle lane on the 60-foot-wide span will link to the Brooke County Pioneer Trail just below it.
He noted the bridge also is unique in that its main span was transported by barges from an area below the Wellsburg Smith Oil gas station, where it was built, and down river to Brilliant, where it was lifted by hydraulic jacks onto its piers from 80 feet below.
•The Black Bear Bridge, which alludes to the West Virginia state animal and was inspired by reports a black bear was seen swimming in the river during the main span’s transport on April 26, 2021.
•The Cardinal Bridge, which alludes to the state bird as well as the Cardinal Power Plant. Located near the bridge in Brilliant, the plant received its name because the red bird also is Ohio’s state bird.
It’s said that some Brooke County residents employed by the plant once took a shortcut to their workplace by rowing a boat across the river.
•The Wellsburg Century Bridge because it’s said talk of an Ohio River link between the city and southern Jefferson County can be traced as long ago as the mid-1920’s.
Weld said while doing research for a book on Wellsburg’s history, he learned that in 1929, city officials signed a contract for a toll bridge to be built from the intersection of 11th and Main streets.
Officials in Beech Bottom just south of the span have lobbied with others for the Purple Heart Bridge, noting state Route 2 has been named a Purple Heart Memorial Trail in honor of all Americans who were wounded or killed while serving in the military.
Weld said he’s concerned the name would create confusion because the span connecting Wheeling Island and Bridgeport is named the Military Order of the Purple Heart Bridge.
Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce, the Brooke County Schools and the Weirton Transit Authority arranged for shuttles buses to take spectators to the bridge from nearby parking.
Brooke Hills Park supplied golf carts to transport elderly and visitors with disabilities on the span.
The day started with a Bridge Run and Walk at 8 a.m.
Other events organized by the Chamber included a classic car show, food vendors, performances by the marching bands of Brooke and Buckeye Local High schools, the ribbon cutting involving Gov. Justice and other officials, music by local bands in the afternoon and a short parade starting Wednesday evening from the bridge’s approach at Third Street in Brilliant.
The car show awarded dash plaques with bridge artwork and the opening date to all entrants. The event honored the late Sue Simonetti, former Wellsburg mayor, who was instrumental in the bridge project.
The span is slated to open for traffic on Thursday, when drivers will be able to approach it from new turn lanes created on Third Street and West Virginia Route 2 just south of Wellsburg.