Bridge Plans Move Forward

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

A new Ironton-Russell Bridge will look different from what was initially planned and will undoubtedly take more time to build, but it will be built.

That was the word from Ohio Department of Transportation District 9 officials this week.

After a month of studying what went wrong with the old design that so dramatically affected its bottom line, engineers are now working on a plan they hope will be just as aesthetically pleasing but considerably more affordable.

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Meanwhile, they said they are also ready to embark on a $1 million repair project next year to make the existing bridge last long enough — hopefully — to get the new one in place.

Ironton, we have a problem

In January, ODOT officials announced plans for the new Ironton-Russell Bridge were being “shelved” after construction firms submitted bids that were at least 28 percent over budget.

In the wake of the overbudget bids, state officials sent the project to a process called

“value engineering,” a means to determine why the bids were so high and what could be done to bring down the cost and build a bridge within budget.

Gary Cochenour, project manager for the Ironton Russell Bridge project, said the value engineering process, conducted this spring, involved a dozen or so engineers from the ODOT Central Office and another 10 structural and bridge engineers from across the U.S. and from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Some of the those engineers were involved in the design of the Veterans Memorial Bridge linking Steubenville and Weirton, W.Va., the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, S.C. as well as bridges in California and elsewhere.

“We had a collection of some people involved with large structure projects across the country, in design and actual construction” Cochenour said.

A bridge too tall

What did they find? The height of the bridge was one major hindrance to a buildable bridge.

The original design called for a single tower that rose 515 feet from the water line. While the sleek tall tower rising above the river looked striking, engineers said it was too costly.

They recommended building two shorter towers at 275 feet each to save money, much like the new U.S. Grant Bridge being built in Portsmouth.

“The footing and foundation for a single tower got very expensive and got very massive,” Cochenaur said.

“Another reason why two towers are more economical is that a single tower is more flexible. There is great expense in remediating wind effects. Two towers are more stiff so you don’t have to adjust for effects of the winds as you would with a single tall tower,” Cochenour said.

Cochenour estimated that $5 million to $10 million could be saved by scrapping the single tower plan.

Another recommendation was to reduce the width from 48 feet to 32 feet.

“The bridge as it was first designed had extra wide shoulders that would have been helpful in terms of maintenance. That design had two 12-foot lanes and two 10-foot shoulders plus a four-foot pedestrian walkway,” ODOT District 9 spokeswoman Kathleen Fuller said.

“The new design will have two 12-foot lanes and two four-foot shoulders with no pedestrian walkway.”

“That’s a big one,” Cochenour said. “The width is a big one. Reducing it has taken off as much or more (from the bottom line) as (reducing) the height.”

One thing engineers determined would not have been helpful was moving the bridge to another location. The reasons were numerous: properties used for bridge approaches have already been purchased and some structures on those parcels of land are being razed.

If the bridge were moved to another location, additional properties would have to be purchased.

Even if the bridge had been moved to another location, design problems with height and width would still have been a cost factor.

Choosing a new location would have meant starting over from scratch, not only purchasing new properties for touch downs but also starting over again with environmental studies and right of way acquisition, Fuller said.

So what now?

Fuller said engineers feel certain that by making these changes, they can build a bridge for $85 million, the amount allotted initially for the project.

The next step then, she said, is to program the bridge’s redesign. ODOT should be ready to solicit request from bridge designers at the end of the year and hope to have a designer in place by early 2007.

With a designer in place by early 2007, it may take up to two years for new plans to be developed. Once a new design is accepted, ODOT must again solicit the approval of a host of other agencies, among them, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Obtaining the necessary permits may take as long as six months.

The permits issued for the old design are void since a new bridge design is needed.

Cochenour said the earliest ODOT would put the project up for bid would be 2010. It will likely be 2013 or after before the bridge is completed and ready to use.

New repairs for old bridge

As for the existing bridge, Fuller said a $1 million repair project will likely be put out for bid by late summer or early fall of next year. On the to-do list

are repairs to the grid flooring, railing and

work to strengthen the bridge frame and trusses.

“Hopefully this will extend its life about five to seven years,” Cochenour said.

In the meantime

When bridge plans were shelved earlier this year, the news of yet another Lawrence County project being underfunded and therefore stalled created a furor among area residents. Cochenour said he wants Ironton area residents to know there will be a bridge, though it may take a little more time and a lot more planning.

“We’ve heard the rumblings, this is not a dead project. Things are progressing forward. We did encounter some delays but things are progressing,” Cochenour said. “ODOT is committed to it.”