The Ohio Department of Transportation on Friday said the nearly $36 million to $38 million U.S. Grant Bridge should open on Oct. 16, more than two years past the scheduled completion date of June 2004.
“There are a few items to be completed that could change this date,” ODOT District 9 Deputy Director Harry Fry said. “However, we believe that the bridge should be open by then.”
With the opening date nearing, crews will be erecting the stainless steel shell walls for the Ohio tower head, finishing tie-ins for electrical and lighting systems and completing general groundwork for the historical display in the park.
ODOT is building a park beside the bridge to display items salvaged from the old Grant Bridge.
“This is past due,” Mayor Jim Kalb said. “We're excited about it being open again.”
Fry said some minor work may continue after the bridge opens, but it would not affect the bridge's status.
“If it really happens, it's great,” Smith Discount Pharmacy owner Sean Sturgill said. “Even if it is ... late. There is no reason for the delay. It shouldn't have taken longer to build this bridge than it did to build the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.”
By completing the bridge before Dec. 1, contractor C.J. Mahan Construction, of Grove City, will receive a $900,000 bonus as a result of a March 2005 contract renegotiation.
The company originally submitted a $28 million bid. Fry said the additional $8 million to $10 million increase is normal for this type of project.
Despite the problems over the past two-plus years, Fry said ODOT would still use C.J. Mahan Construction again because the state considers it a qualified bidder.
“Until they are disqualified or disbarred, we have no choice,” ODOT Public Information Officer Kathleen Fuller said. “There's not a question of whether we will or not. The question is, if they are bidding on a job, do they get that job? And if they do, we'll be working with them.”
The University of Cincinnati Infrastructure Institute will conduct a final load test the week before the bridge opening. Institute personnel will continue to monitor the bridge indefinitely.
ODOT closed the old U.S. Grant Bridge in July 2001 and began work on the cable-stayed four-lane replacement, which is expected to serve 11,000 vehicles daily.
But the project soon was plagued by delays, which ODOT attributes to poor weather, high water and design problems.
Over the past few years, several downtown merchants have said the delay has hurt the city's economy. Traffic crossing the Ohio River has had to use the Carl Perkins Bridge near West Portsmouth. However, Fry disagreed with the merchants' assessment.
“We don't feel we've impacted business because we still have had access into the city,” he said.
The Grant Bridge is the first cable-stayed bridge ODOT has built. It also is building a bridge in Pomeroy and plans to replace the Ironton-Russell Bridge. Fry said the experience learned from the Grant Bridge should make other bridge projects move more smoothly.
Fuller said no single entity is at fault for the bridge delay.
“Maybe if anything, we should have made our construction timetable a little longer than three years,” she said. “Obviously, with any project, we are responsible for that project. We're responsible for anything we do, whether it's a minor resurfacing or a major bridge replacement. But we do have contractors and designers that are responsible to us and to the public for the project. So it's a combination.”
Portsmouth City Council President Howard Baughman said the new bridge opening has been a long time coming.
“It's opening at a good time of the year with the holiday season approaching,” he said. “This is good news for us.”
Fuller said ODOT will have a celebration on the opening day. But the details have not yet been worked out.
JEFF BARRON can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.