If I’m blessed with another decade of life, I might see a new Ohio River bridge here in the Huntington area.
The KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission and a private consulting firm are working on a feasibility study to decide whether a new bridge north of Huntington should be built to connect Ohio Route 7 with W.Va. Route 2 and Interstate 64 by way of W.Va. Route 193, also known as the Merritts Creek connector.
The people doing the study for KYOVA say the federal government will pay about 80 percent of the cost of the bridge, and Ohio will pay for the approaches on its side. Using pure guesswork, let’s say the bridge would cost about $100 million, and let’s say Ohio’s share is $5 million. That leaves West Virginia responsible for $15 million.
Would West Virginians receive $15 million of benefit from the bridge? If you’re one of the tens of thousands of state residents who would like to see that much additional spending per year to bring secondary roads up to decent condition — I’m one of them — you might think not.
After looking at it a bit deeper, though, I think the bridge could be justified, and I’m not saying this because I’m a fan of big bridges.
The new bridge would help Ohioans who work, shop or do business in West Virginia. If you live in the subdivision-heavy part of Rome Township, you must take the Proctorville bypass to cross the river and then U.S. 60 to Interstate 64. Having a bridge at Merritts Creek would shorten the trip for most of them, giving them an incentive to spend more time and money here.
Stores in areas of the mall, Tanyard Station and Merritt Creek Farm already track where their customers live. Anecdotally and from personal observation, I can tell you they get good business from Gallipolis and south along Ohio 7. If bridge planners access this information, it would be more evidence that a bridge would remove a barrier to people thinking about a shopping trip.
A new bridge at the Merritts Creek connector would benefit the West Virginia side in several ways. For one, it would take traffic off U.S. 60 and Interstate 64. Construction of the bridge is too far off to help people who want to avoid problems that will come with widening I-64 between the 29th Street and the mall exits. In the long run, it would relieve congestion on this side of the river.
Some business owners along U.S. 60 might object to that, but if you don’t like making left turns on that road, you avoid that area anyway.
The bridge could also make W.Va. 2 safer between Guyandotte and the connector. A number of people have told me they prefer Route 2 to I-64 when going to the mall or the Target areas. Instead of creating more traffic on that road, the bridge could reduce Ohioans’ traffic there.
On the aesthetic side, a new bridge could bring something new and interesting to the area. It would likely be a steel bridge such as the one at 6th Street or a cable stay design like the new bridge at Ironton. I myself would like to see a network tied arch design like the one at Blennerhassett Island, but the river might be too wide in this area for one.
If people whose homes would be taken are given fair deals, I hope I get to cross another new bridge in the next dozen years. But please, West Virginia, don’t stick a politician’s name on it.