Blennerhassett Bridge (US 50)

The Blennerhassett Bridge carries US 50 across the Ohio River between Belpre, Ohio to Parkersburg, West Virginia. It is distinctive for its tied-arch design and for its graceful crossing over Blennerhassett Island.

Blennerhassett Bridge

Blennerhassett Bridge at night.

Planning for the bridge began with the formation of Appalachian Corridor D, one of the original 23 Appalachian Development Highway System Routes in 1965.1 6 Corridor D, generally following US 50, was planned to connect Cincinnati, Ohio to Clarksburg, West Virginia.

The segment of Corridor D between Interstate 77 in Parkersburg and Interstate 79 in Clarksburg was completed between 1967 and 1978.9 A ten-mile segment, from Interstate 77 west to Ohio, remained unfinished due to environmental, historic and funding issues.

Most of these issues revolved around the Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.9 At its centerpoint is an old mansion built by Harmon Blennerhassett and visited several times by Aaron Burr. The mansion was burned by the Virginia militia after the collapse of Burr’s conspiracy The mansion was then rebuilt on the upper end of the island.

While planners had decided upon mitigating the impact on wetlands, mussels and migratory birds, the initial environmental impact study (EIS) stated that no piers could touch the island.9 At the minimum, a new bridge wold need to span both channels of the Ohio River and Blennerhassett Island, requiring a crossing of at least 4,000 feet. The design was also required to incorporate a low profile, so that it would be difficult to see from the new mansion site, approximately 1.5-miles upstream, and to have a paint scheme that would blend into the surrounding area.

In 1991, West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd obtained funding for preliminary work on the Parkersburg bypass which included the Ohio River crossing.1 The Federal Highway Administration approved a Record of Decision in 1999, allowing design for an Ohio River crossing to proceed.

Michael Baker Jr., Inc. was selected as the primary architect of the Ohio River bridge who then hired the E.L. Robinson Engineering Company to assist in designing the bridge and to survey the area around Blennerhassett Island.2 5

Four designs were considered for the lengthy Ohio River crossing, including a suspension bridge and a span-steel-tied arch with inclined cable-stays.7 The suspension alternative was projected to cost $70 million to more than $140 million,9 while the tied arch had an estimated price of $120 million.5 The tied arch was also projected to take one year less than a suspension bridge to build.7 The tied arch design 5 was chosen as it was the most economical and least intrusive on the historic Blennerhassett Island.1 3

In 2000, construction began work on the Parkersburg bypass.1 The West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) awarded an $135 million construction contract to the Walsh Construction Company of Chicago on March 30, 2005 for the Blennerhassett Bridge.1 The contract was the largest single contract in WVDOH’s history.4 9 The contract called for more than 14,705 tons of structural steel. The project was divided into three segments:

  • A 2,629 feet continuous girder bridge of eight spans that range from 200 to 400 feet over WV 892 and the secondary channel with 16.3 million pounds of plate girder steel.
  • A 494 feet continuous girder bridge of three spans that range from 140 to 179 feet over OO 618 with 1.6 million pounds of plate girder steel.
  • Over 11.5 million pounds of a different class of structural steel for the 880 feettied arch over the main channel.

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PDM Bridge was awarded the contract by Walsh to supply the structural steel.8

Eleven piers were constructed for the superstructure.9 Seventy-five drilled caissons provided the foundations for ten of the eleven piers and one abutment. The caissons, with a diameter from 54 to 108 inches, were drilled with polymer slurry to help control the silty soil. The other pier and abutment used traditional driven-steel piling.

For financing, WVDOH paid 65% of the cost from accumulated amounts left in various senate appropriation bills by Senator Byrd, while the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) provided the remaining 40%.1 The costs were then shared with the standard 80%-20% Appalachian Corridor highway financing.

In April 2008, crews applied a latex modified concrete overlay on the bridge deck, completed painting, asphalt work and guardrail construction.6 The Blennerhassett Bridge opened to traffic on June 13,6 later than the original open date of August 14, 2007.9 The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by then-West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox and other West Virginia officials, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and other Ohio officials.6

The Blennerhassett Bridge, with 2,633 feet of approaches in West Virginia and 495 feet of approaches in Ohio with an 880 feet main span,1 4 5 is the largest bridge of its type in the United States.5 6

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