October 31, 2022 Memorial Bridge reopening moved up to August
Originally Published on OCT 21, 2022
PARKERSBURG — The Memorial Bridge won’t reopen to traffic until its $50 million rehabilitation project is complete, but that date has moved up to Aug. 31, 2023.
That also means the operation and maintenance agreement with the City of Parkersburg is no longer needed, and Parkersburg City Council is expected to vote Tuesday night on terminating it.
The measure on the agenda for the 7:30 p.m. meeting “replaces the old operating agreement and transitions full operations and ownership over to United Bridge Partners,” Mayor Tom Joyce said.
The city had continued to pay toll collectors and operate the bridge, then was reimbursed by Parkersburg Bridge Partners, UBP’s local subsidiary.
Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the useful life of the bridge is to be extended for at least another 50 years. The company embarked on a massive effort to remove and replace the bridge deck; apply a new paint and coating system; repair the steel superstructure, concrete piers and columns; and more.
That work was originally projected to be done in November 2023, but according to documents attached to the council agenda released Thursday, the new expected completion date is Aug. 31, 2023.
“We’ve now accelerated the bridge opening,” said Ken Szeliga, executive vice president of construction and operations for United Bridge Partners.
The timeline was shortened because traffic is no longer crossing the bridge.
The bridge closed from mid-March until the end of April for some initial work, but traffic resumed with one lane open so vehicles could take turns traveling east and west.
In August, the company announced the bridge would move to one-way only, from West Virginia to Belpre, due to motorists ignoring the traffic pattern and signals, occasionally resulting in traffic moving in opposite directions in the same lane at the same time. About a week later, the decision was made to close it indefinitely.
“It really became a safety concern, not only for our workers but also for the traveling public,” Szeliga said.
People continued to try to drive across the bridge from the closed side, even with uniformed police officers stationed there, he said.
While the bridge has been closed, Joyce said the 27 part-time toll collectors have continued to be paid, based on their average hours. Parkersburg Bridge Partners will reimburse the city for those wages, in addition to covering unemployment compensation benefits up to $50,000, according to the proposed termination agreement.
Joyce said he also plans to ask council to approve a severance package for the part-timers, who had expected to continue working late into next year.
“I’m going to propose it because I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The city had one full-time employee who worked at the bridge. She has been assisting with a variety of tasks under the supervision of the public works director and the city intends to keep her on, Joyce said.
Szeliga said the company plans to work with the city to develop a refund or credit program for outstanding bridge tickets, but no details have been finalized.
“We understand that there’s a number of people that bought those tickets and we need to honor those,” he said.
The price of a single trip across the bridge is expected to rise from 50 cents to at least $1 when the bridge reopens. Tolls will be assessed electronically.