|Governor Jim Justice and Secretary of Transportation Jimmy Wriston joined an estimated 2,500 people to celebrate the new Wellsburg Bridge, connecting Wellsburg, West Virginia with Brilliant, Ohio, on Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Among the 2,500, were many voices who have been speaking out in support of the bridge for decades. |
As West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) works to make Governor Justice's vision for our roads a reality, from the Col. Ruby Bradley Bridge in Spencer, to the Lt. Darwin K. Kyle Memorial Bridge in Madison, to the Nitro WWI Memorial Bridge on Interstate 64 between St. Albans and Nitro, and now the Wellsburg Bridge, there is a moment with each project where we turn the bridge over to the community and celebrate with them. Each ribbon cutting signifies the dedication of many who worked together to make a dream real, and in each case odds were defied. Each is a story worth telling.
|On Monday, September 25, 2023, WVDOT released a video featuring interviews from five people in the Wellsburg area who worked for decades to try to find support for a bridge for their community. The video, featuring Helen Mayle, Walt Ferguson, Jason Ferguson, Jack Yost, and Tim Ennis, and titled "Wellsburg, A Dream (Bridge) Come True" is available on WVDOT's YouTube channel. WVDOT also shared the mic with local residents on the bridge on its weekly "WV on the DOT" podcast episode number 162. |
"I used to come across on the ferry, and the ferry froze in the river and sank in 1948," said Helen Mayle, member of the Citizen's Bridge Committee, who formed decades ago in support of the bridge. "We haven't had a crossing since."
"All these communities are great people," said Walt Ferguson, chairman of the Citizen's Bridge Committee. "We're very fortunate to live in this area, so anything to update it, to make it better for the people and the community, I'm all for."
"This is an incredible day for both Wellsburg and Brilliant because we are finally opening a bridge connecting these two communities that is long overdue," said Gov. Jim Justice. "This bridge is going to make life better for everyone who travels through West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.”
"We had 51 meetings at the Wellsburg City Library," Ferguson said. In attendance were elected officials, college professors, and citizens throughout the area who saw the need for the bridge.
"We also entertained the West Virginia Department of Highways representatives," Ferguson said. "Eight or ten at a time, men and women work worked for the Department of Highways who never failed to come and update us."
"This beautiful item that we're going to have here on the river is going to benefit both sides of the river," said Jason Ferguson, Walt's son and President of Brooke County Parks and Recreation. "I think it's going to help economically. I think it's going to help the whole community, with community interest, festivals, things like that."
"Helping folks with employment," said Jack Yost, former member of the West Virginia State Senate. "Helping folks with businesses. The colleges, the universities here in Brooke County and Ohio County, everyone's going to benefit from this bridge."
Yost recalled, with enthusiasm, the river boat captains discussing the best placement of the bridge.
"It's going to be so exciting to drive across this bridge," said Yost. "In fact, I'm looking more forward to walking across as much as I am driving across."
The bridge made history, and national news, on April 26, 2021, when contractor Flatiron floated it down river on barges. Built on land to avoid unnecessary interruption to river traffic, the bridge was floated down river and jacked onto piers while the community watched in wonder.
"To accomplish what they did to set that bridge, I've been in construction for 36 years, but to me, that was a massive accomplishment right there," said Jason Ferguson. "For something that size, to do what they did. And it was in a timely manner. Everything just seemed to go like clockwork."
"I was there pre-dawn hours," said Tim Ennis, former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. "It was well advertised that it was going to happen and it was an exciting event to see. Truly, it was pioneering engineering that we were witnessing."
"Once again, the Governor is here to cut a ribbon on a project that has lingered and lingered and lingered," said West Virginia Transportation Secretary Jimmy Wriston, P.E. “In 2016, we elected the most dynamic governor in our state's history, who had a vision to put transportation at the forefront of our economic recovery. He is a Governor who is transforming our economy, diversifying our economy, and building the infrastructure that West Virginians and Ohioans deserve and appreciate."
Governor Justice's Roads to Prosperity program provided funding for projects across the state, such as the I-70 Bridges in Wheeling, which would have taken decades to complete. Over 1,200 Roads to Prosperity projects are already complete, while others are nearing completion. Roads to Prosperity also freed up funding for additional projects, including Wellsburg Bridge, which would otherwise not yet be funded.
Daylong festivities on the Wellsburg Bridge opening celebration included a car show, food trucks, marching bands, choral groups, rock bands, daytime fireworks, and confetti. Babydog accompanied Governor Justice, pausing during the speech to get a drink of water and as an onlooker loaned her their hat. Dubbed "Bridge Day North," an estimated 2,500 people joined in the festivities and many vowed to come back next year.
Construction of the new bridge cuts what used to be a 40-minute drive to the nearest bridge across the Ohio River to a five-minute trip.
"I would drive down this hill every morning to go to work and I could see the river," said Walt Ferguson. "It was five minutes away from my job but I had another thirty minutes to drive north and then south again to get to my job. This means improvement for everybody's lives."
When the ribbon was cut and confetti rained down, there were many smiles and a few tears. Among the crowd, one figure shown in the video is Helen Mayle.
"Everybody said, "Well, you'll never get it," said Mayle. "And I said, "Don't bet on it!"
"Piece at a time, putting things in place, putting more things in place. More good things just keep coming, and keep coming," said Wriston. "Wellsburg Bridge is one of those good things coming. Town of Wellsburg on one side, Brilliant, Ohio on the other side. Those areas are going to prosper for 100 years."