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Mayor to meet with ODOT director

Blankenship hopes to reverse decision to delay bridge

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship will meet Thursday with Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation in an effort to change the department’s decision to delay construction on the new Ironton-Russell Bridge.

ODOT announced Monday that the $85 million project will not go to bid Oct. 6 as planned. Now it will go to bid by June 2012.

Officials said new legislation, the Transportation Budget, will allow ODOT to enter into partnerships with private entities for the delivery and financing of transportation projects. Public-private partnerships will allow ODOT to work with the private sector in developing new and innovative ways to develop, finance, maintain or operate a transportation facility, according to a release from ODOT Tuesday.

Blankenship, who during his term as mayor has lobbied state officials to start construction on the bridge, met with Rep. Terry Johnson about the matter Tuesday. Johnson or one of his aides will attend the Thursday meeting with Wray, Blankenship said. The bridge project has been delayed “numerous” times, the mayor said.

“It’s frustrating to me that southern Ohio is being treated like this,” Blankenship said, adding that the region will lose 300-plus jobs soon with the closure of the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility next month.

“To come to me six weeks before (the previous bid date) and say it’s delayed, it’s totally unacceptable,” Blankenship said. “I’m highly upset about this. That’s why I’m doing every thing I can to get this decision reversed. For the safety of our citizens and the economic development potential that it has for city of Ironton.”

Blankenship said he asked ODOT officials if the bridge had to fall down first before they replaced it. As it is, the bridge, built in 1922, is closed at times when temperatures fall near zero or below.

After the area felt tremors from the Virginia earthquake Tuesday afternoon, workers from the water filtration department reported hearing unusual noises coming from the bridge, Blankenship said.

The mayor said he reported the incident to ODOT.

“I don’t want to scare people but I think as the mayor I should report that,” Blankenship said. “We will see what they do. What a coincidence.”