Although she declined to give a revised, earlier completion date, Kathleen Fuller, spokesperson for Ohio Department of Transportation District 9, confirmed Wednesday the truth to the rumors which had reached her office regarding construction of the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway.
“We are ahead of schedule,” Fuller said. “I’m not ready to say how far ahead.”
Fuller added one main reason for the progress is two mild winters in a row, including the current season which ends March 20. Crews were able to work through both mildly snowy seasons, although Fuller said winter crews are much smaller. She added during the summer months up to 400 persons will be working on the roadway.
“This time of year, that number is cut back considerably,” Fuller said. The reason is there are many things, such as laying asphalt, which simply cannot be done in cold, wet weather.
While Fuller declined to give a new completion date, she said an announcement should arrive by early summer. The project had originally been scheduled to open in November 2018.
Stretching 16 miles and connecting U.S. 52 at Wheelersburg to U.S. 23 north of Lucasville, the project has been advertised as the largest piece of earthwork ever undertaken in the state. According to the District 9 website, the project required removal of 20 million cubic yards of dirt. To put that in perspective, the website claims that if the dirt was piled up on a football field, the pile would reach two miles high. The state does note most of the material will be reused along the project route. In any case, Fuller said the earthwork is now 100 percent complete.
Overall, Fuller added what is often referred to as the Portsmouth Bypass is about 88 percent complete. She said much of the work going on now revolves around finishing some of the 22 bridges that are part of the project. For now, Fuller said the state is concentrating on spans over the Scioto River and near Lucasville-Minford Road. Overall, bridge work is about 68 percent finished.
Although laying pavement is mostly a job for the summer months, Fuller claimed plenty of pavement work is complete.
“We’ve got a lot of pavement on the ground,” she said. The project website says 67 percent the needed pavement is laid.
As has been highly publicized in the past, the new four-lane, limited-access freeway is the first-ever public/private road enterprise in Ohio. Fuller said had the state decided to build the $634 million project on its own, it most likely would have been built in phases stretching over 15 to 25 years. The unique funding mechanism used cut that time to three-and-a-half years.
When complete, the bypass is expected to save motorists more than 70 miles on some trips between southern Ohio and the Columbus region.