If there’s anything people learn from living in the Huntington area, which includes Lawrence County, Ohio, it’s patience.
Think of the things that took years and decades to plan and build: the East End bridge; Superblock, now known as Pullman Square; the eastern Lawrence County sewer project; the Marshall University baseball field. And, not so well known, the outer belt around Huntington.
Way back when Interstate 64 was planned and built, Ohio was to build bypasses around Chesapeake and Proctorville so Huntington would have an outer belt the way Columbus and Cincinnati do. Interstate 64 was finished in this area in the 1960s. The Ohio part is still in planning.
But Ohio is moving to finish its part of the plan. The bypass around the western part of Chesapeake opened in 1987. The segment from the East End bridge looping around Proctorville and the subdivision-heavy area of Rome Township was completed in this century.
Ohio is in the process of buying right of way to finish its final part of the loop, which would connect the Chesapeake bypass with the one at Proctorville. Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Transportation recommended $5 million in funding for the 4½-mile two-lane highway, which could be upgraded to four lanes.
There’s still one piece missing. That would be a bridge connecting the end of the bypass around Proctorville with the Merritts Creek connector on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River.
The KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission conducted a public meeting Nov. 20 to gather interested residents’ input on the proposed bridge. It offered three possible locations. One was at the connector. The other two are north of it. All else being equal, the one at the connector itself makes the most sense.
The bridge would be a federal project, which would be funded up to 80% with a 20% match from the state. At this point, it’s too early to determine how much a new bridge spanning the Ohio River would cost, said Manuch Amir, project manager for the proposed bridge. The planners would need to develop an inter-agency agreement and have discussions with stakeholders along the river, including companies that use it for transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The construction will depend on the next phase of the process, which would examine the proposed bridge’s impact on the environment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard will have to review the proposed site to ensure it does not harm navigation.
Realistically, Amir said if the project is funded and greenlit for construction, it would take approximately 10 years to complete.
Amir said the project team would take people’s comments and concerns to include them in a draft report in spring 2020. A final report is scheduled for June 30, 2020, and will review regional transportation needs and financial requirements to determine if the project should be carried on to the next phase.
The bypasses Ohio has built and is building won’t be complete without the bridge. The Merritts Creek connector won’t reach its full potential without the bridge.
There are ways of keeping costs down while building a safe, functional bridge. Unless there’s a deal killer lurking in the shadows, the bridge would be a win-win for both states.