“ODOT has carefully reviewed the bids, construction plans and possible sources of funding for the Ironton-Russell Bridge replacement project,” ODOT District 9 Deputy Director Harry Fry said. “Although we would like to announce that a contract will be awarded, we cannot fund the project at this time due to a significant cost increase.”
Construction was to have started in March or April.
On Jan. 13, ODOT's Office of Contracts opened three bids. The lowest was $109,772,299.05. This was 28 percent more than the $85 million ODOT budgeted.
ODOT Public Information Officer Kathleen Fuller said the bridge will have to be redesigned. She didn't know how long that might take.
ODOT will continue to maintain the old bridge, which was built in 1922.
“It is a safe bridge,” Fuller said. “We've been doing minor maintenance on it for a while and it doesn't carry truck traffic anymore.”
ODOT also closes the bridge to all traffic when the temperature nears 0 degrees.
She said ODOT would probably not completely rehabilitate the bridge.
Bert's Pet Center manager and Wheelersburg resident Jim Wente disagrees with Fuller's assertion of the bridge being safe. He works in the Russell store and drives to the Ironton store about five times a week.
“That old bridge scares me to death,” he said. “My wife almost had an accident on it. I hate that bridge. I can't believe they're not replacing it.”
ODOT originally budgeted $85 million, but raised the estimate to $99,035,000. The increase was caused by several factors, including material and labor costs, according to ODOT.
Additionally, the bridge's structure type and geometrics added to its high cost of construction.
For example, the tower would have been higher than similar bridges, thus adding to the cost.
“The cost of construction far outweighs the department's ability to pay for the bridge, and in good faith to the taxpayers and the best interest of all, we cannot start a project that we cannot fund to completion,” said Fry.
However, Fry said the department is not without a plan to have a bridge that will serve both sides of the river.
As proposed, a new Ironton-Russell Bridge would connect the two communities via Second and Jefferson streets in downtown Ironton and near the intersection of Ky. 244 (Bellefonte Street) and U.S. 23, south of Russell.
Tim Gearhart owns Tim's News at Third Street and Park Avenue. He said a new bridge is desperately needed to handle downtown traffic.
“This is an awful setback,” Gearhart said. “I hope they keep the old bridge open until they figure out a way to get the new bridge built.”