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Memorial Bridge bid in the works for years

PARKERSBURG — Details about a proposal to purchase and rehabilitate the Memorial Bridge were made public over the last week, but the effort by United Bridge Partners has been underway for several years.

“We just found that it was a bridge in need with, potentially, a lack of funding,” said Ryan Dolan, vice president of business development for Colorado-based UBP, after Thursday’s presentation to Parkersburg City Council.

While the bridge is in “fair” condition — a 5 out of 9 by Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inspection Standards — the city only has a fraction of the funds the company is prepared to bring to bear on the estimated $50 million rehabilitation project.

Seven to 10 years from now, the city could have faced costly options to keep the bridge usable, Mayor Tom Joyce said.

“This kind of stuff is expensive,” he said. “I think you’re going to see more of this nationwide.”

Proposal documents released to the public note UBP has been in contact with city officials over the past three years, but Joyce said the company was interested in the span “before I became mayor” in 2017.

Initial discussions dealt with a potential auction of the bridge. But Joyce said officials including former City Attorney Joe Santer, Engineer Adam Stout and bridge engineering consultant HNTB came up with the idea of using a request for proposals to set certain parameters for the sale.

The initial RFP approved in August 2019 included goals of maintaining the existing structure and replacing it when needed, while continuing to operate it as a toll facility with the lowest feasible rates. The technical merits and ability to maintain and replace the bridge were given more weight than the financial aspects.

In January 2020, council approved an amendment to the RFP based on a lack of interest from prospective buyers in replacing the bridge. The proposal documents said UBP officials indicated in December 2019 that a full replacement was not necessary or economically feasible.

Under the proposed agreement, the rehabilitation will bring the bridge up to an NBIS rating of at least 7 (“good” condition) and ensure it remains open for at least 50 years.

Design engineer Modjeski and Masters has completed more than 80 pages of preliminary design drawings, according to the proposal.

“We’ve really prioritized this project and focused on it for a long time,” Dolan said Thursday. “We’ll be able to hit the ground running.”

Through that time, Joyce said city officials have gotten to know UBP.

“We’ve got a bona fide, qualified-beyond-measure bidder,” he said. “I have a high level of trust with regard to United Bridge Partners.”

The company worked with state officials on legislation to facilitate the purchase, including authorizing the collection of tolls by a private entity and limiting the rate of taxation on a municipally owned bridge sold to a private entity to its salvage value.

Delegate Roger Conley, R-Wood and the bill’s lead sponsor, said what was presented Thursday verified discussions he’s had about the project over the last year or so.

“This is just a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

UBP is offering the city $4 million for the bridge and relinquishing approximately $15 million the city has allocated to the span.

The rehabilitation project is expected to create 285 jobs and have a $38 million impact on the area’s economy. Tolls won’t increase until the work is completed. They’re projected to go to $1 per trip for a passenger vehicle in 2024, according to the proposal.

The project is contingent upon council approving two readings of an ordinance approving the deal.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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