Mid-Ohio Valley officials, owners celebrate Memorial Bridge rehabilitation efforts
PARKERSBURG — The new owners of the Memorial Bridge looked to the structure’s past while celebrating a major step into the future Wednesday.
Parkersburg Bridge Partners held a kickoff event for the bridge’s $50 million rehabilitation project to mark the recent start of construction and express gratitude to the local partners in the venture.
“We are excited to have you be a part of the future history of this bridge,” said Emily Myers Duke, communications director for Parkersburg Bridge Partners.
The mayors of Parkersburg, Belpre and Marietta attended the event at the Garfield Avenue project headquarters, along with other state and local officials, businesses working on the project and representatives of other local organizations.
It included the presentation of colors by the Belpre Area Veterans Inc. and a rifle salute from American Legion Post 15, both a nod to the Memorial Bridge’s original dedication to U.S. military veterans in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Duke shared remarks from the Parkersburg Chamber of Commerce president at the bridge’s grand opening in 1955.
Among the guests were the daughter and two granddaughters of Wannee Prunty Cook, the first person to cross the bridge. Cook had taken over her husband’s trucking company when he died young and later retired, sold the company and went to work as the bridge’s manager in 1979.
“I was glad that someone recognized the fact that my grandmother was the first woman to cross the bridge,” Jackie Bartrug said.
The bridge was a big part of Cook’s life. She even took in a cat she found on the bridge and named him Tollbooth, Bartrug said.
Construction on the rehabilitation project has been under way since PBP closed on its purchase of the bridge from the City of Parkersburg in mid-March. The bridge closed for a month-and-a-half to allow some work to be done, but reopened at the end of April with only one lane open at a time.
Parkersburg officials announced in 2018 they would be exploring the divestiture of the bridge, given that the eventual replacement or rehabilitation of it would be too big a project for the city to fund.
Colorado-based United Bridge Partners made an offer, after Parkersburg City Council approved a revision to the proposal so the bridge could be rehabilitated rather than demolished and replaced. The company has $50 million committed to the effort, said Ken Szeliga, vice president of construction and operations for United, the parent company of Parkersburg Bridge Partners.
“There really is no risk to completing the project, since the money is put up day one,” he said.
The company paid Parkersburg $4 million for the bridge and made no claim on approximately $11.8 million the city set aside over the years for demolition and maintenance.
Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said the process has worked out just as planned and hoped so far, a rarity for many projects. He praised PBP’s selection of Kokosing Construction Company, which has expreince in the area including with the Memorial Bridge, as the general contractor and the commitment to using local labor.
“Everybody knows Kokosing. They’re the real deal,” Joyce said. “It’s local guys and gals getting the jobs, and that’s a big deal to us.”
Joyce also praised the work of longtime City Attorney Joe Santer to ensure the quality of the work on the bridge was key to any deal made.
“Joe really helped us to guide our process to make sure we just didn’t sell this asset to the highest bidder,” he said.
The rehab project is intended to extend the bridge’s useful life by a minimum of 50 years. Szeliga said the bridge will be inspected biannually and the results will be shared with the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
The tentative completion date for the project is November 2023, a month behind the originally announced date, Szeliga said. After that, the bridge will transition to an all-electronic tolling system, with rates expected to go up to $1 for a single trip across the bridge for a standard, two-axle vehicle.
“We understand the need for keeping the toll as low as possible, and that’s our goal for the entire community,” Szeliga said.
The company intends to continue to have a noticeable presence in the community, having recently hired a general manager — Jonathan Wallace, a longtime retail sales manager from the Ona area — and working to identify permanent office space.
Wallace said the company established a fund through the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation with an initial $15,000 contribution and the first grants will be announced soon. They also contributed $2,500 to Discovery World on Market, the children’s museum set to open downtown this fall.
Evan Bevins can be reached at email@example.com.
A Bridge to the Past…
“We have built this bridge as a memorial to those who have protected and defended our liberties, and it is our responsibility to be just as zealous in preserving these liberties in times of peace by taking an active interest in government and civic affairs. The construction of this bridge represents such an interest. It represents a new link in trade and commerce of this great valley and will bring ever closer the relationship of the people of the great states of West Virginia and Ohio.”
John D. Hoblitzell Jr., president of the Parkersburg Chamber of Commerce, at the grand opening of the Memorial Bridge, as quoted in the Jan. 13, 1955, edition of The Parkersburg News