Numerous rumors regarding an opening day for what’s known as the Veterans Memorial Highway, or the Portsmouth bypass, are swirling around town and some have reached the offices of the Portsmouth Daily Times.
A tentative date of Dec. 17 was announced during an economic development update given during an early October meeting of the Scioto County Health Coalition.
“We do not have a set date,” Kathleen Fuller, spokesperson for Ohio Department of Transportation District 9, said Friday.
She quickly added the project will be substantially completed by the contractual date of Dec. 14.
“Were making a lot of progress,” Fuller said. She added contractors are in the process of painting on pavement markers which she described as a good sign a project is nearing the finish line. Fuller did admit some of the pavement painting had to be postponed because of recent wet weather. “Every day matters as far as the weather goes.”
Fuller also spent a little time talking about ongoing work on what is formally known as Bridge 11 near Lucasville. Explaining what was meant by “substantial completion,” Fuller said while the roadway will open in December some work along the sides of the roadway such as landscaping and so on likely will not be completed.
A credible source connected with the contractors building the highway reported to the Daily Times contractors and the state intended to only partially open the freeway by the Dec. 14 deadline. In other words, only certain lanes of the freeway would open but that opening would allow the state to claim they met the contract deadline. The Times was unable to confirm that information and Friday, without prompting, Fuller denied that will be the case.
Fuller said in the past ODOT has undertaken partial openings of various projects.
“We’re not going to do that this time,” Fuller continued, saying all lanes of the highway will be open by the project deadline date.
Earlier this year, Fuller told the Daily Times, the bypass was ahead of schedule and would open prior to December. In July, she revised those comments and once again began pointing to an opening day on Dec. 14.
Stretching 16 miles and connecting U.S. 52 in Wheelersburg to U.S. 23 north of Lucasville, the $634 million 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. As of March, Fuller reported that earthwork was 100 percent complete.
The bypass was first dreamed up in the early 1960s by what was known as the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC.)
As part of the ARC’s mission, the S.R. 823 project was developed to end supposed isolation of certain areas and provide roadway connections believed needed to attract economic development and jobs.
Fuller said the motivations for building the freeway remain similar to those discussed in the ‘60s. She said the roadway is meant to open new areas for development, not just in Ohio but also in West Virginia and Kentucky. As one local example, Fuller talked about Scioto County officials adding new infrastructure to the area around the Scioto County Airport to make that area attractive to future commercial activity.
In March, Scioto County Economic Development Director Robert Horton did indeed talk specifically about work being done around the airport to take advantage of the coming highway. At the time, Horton added the county and the Southern Ohio Port Authority are not finished wheeling and dealing to take advantage of the coming freeway.
According to the project website: “While providing improved transportation infrastructure to impoverished areas, the new route will serve to alleviate congestion, heighten safety and improve the movement of traffic through and around Portsmouth, where traffic on the primary arterial roadways of U.S. 23 and U.S. 52 is overburdened by steep grades, excessive curves, many intersections and numerous direct driveway accesses on the routes.”
As has been highly publicized, the bypass is the first ever public/private road enterprise in Ohio. Fuller said had the state decided to build the 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. According to Fuller, it also means contractors largely are responsible for upkeep of the highway once it opens in December. ODOT only will be responsible for snow removal.
On Friday, Fuller stated some of the final work being done on the project does not involve construction but paperwork connected with the unique nature of the project contract. She said a lot of care is being taken to ensure the paperwork between ODOT and the private contractor had “all the I’s dotted and all the T’s crossed.”