Bridge bidder presents proposal to Parkersburg City Council
PARKERSBURG — The company looking to buy the Memorial Bridge pitched Parkersburg City Council on Thursday on an approximately $50 million rehabilitation plan to keep the span operational for at least 50 years.
After hearing the proposal from United Bridge Partners, council members sitting as the Committee of the Whole unanimously voted to move forward with an ordinance approving it next month.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the City of Parkersburg to relinquish the liability surrounding this bridge,” Council President Zach Stanley said after the meeting.
United Bridge Partners is a Colorado-based company that built and operates private toll bridges that replaced structurally deficient bridges in Virginia and Indiana and is doing rehabilitation and replacement projects in Michigan and Illinois.
“They’re not here to pull a rabbit out of their hat,” Mayor Tom Joyce said. “This is their core business. This is what they do.”
UBP representatives emphasized that the funding for the project is already secured. That mitigates the risk of the project and allows them to hit the ground running, said Doug Witt, the company’s president and chief executive officer.
“It’s like buying a house with cash and no mortgage,” he said.
The city has about $15 million encumbered for the bridge, including maintenance and demolition funds. That money will revert to the city if the deal is approved. UBP will also pay the city $4 million once the contract is signed and the bridge property conveyed.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity for the city to rid ourselves of a long-term liability and at the same time receive significant compensation,” Joyce said.
For the deal to go through, an ordinance must be approved on two readings by council and the transfer must receive the approval of the West Virginia Public Service Commission.
UBP would then take over responsibility for the bridge and begin a rehabilitation project that will include the complete replacement of the deck surface, structural and cosmetic upgrades to all concrete and steel components and new lighting. The upgrades will increase the bridge’s load rating, eliminating the 10-ton weight limit in place since mid-2017 and allow commercial trucks to use the bridge again instead of traveling through the downtown area.
While the work is being done, the bridge will continue to be manned by city-employed toll collectors and operate with existing rates.
Once the upgrades are complete, the bridge will move to an all-electronic tolling format in which vehicles will not have to stop when crossing, said Ryan Dolan, vice president of business development for UBP. Motorists will be charged via a vehicle-mounted transponder or a scan of their license plate.
“You’ll either pay via transponder or an invoice that is mailed to your house,” Dolan said.
Passenger vehicle tolls are projected to start at $1 per crossing, with Dolan saying rates for larger, commercial vehicles will likely be $5 to $6 more. There will be an unlimited crossing option for transponders, expected to start around $30 a month, and the company will work with businesses like trucking firms “to see how we can get them to use our bridge,” he said.
Dolan and Witt emphasized the commitment of UBP and lead contractor Kokosing Construction Company to use union labor on the project.
“We’re thrilled about the ability to provide additional jobs for the community and local purchasing of materials,” Witt said.
An economic impact study indicated the project is expected to create 285 jobs and have a $38 million economic impact on the area.
Evan Bevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.