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Steve Novotney says, "I-70 Projects in Doubt"

"The bids we received were too high and we cannot afford to award contracts if we can't justify the higher cost," said W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice on the first day of September. "So, we will remain prudent in the process while at the same time making sure we get this extremely important work done under my Roads to Prosperity plan."

But that's all he said.

The governor did not include a newly shaped schedule, nor what the re-evaluated scope would exclude to bring costs down. Initially, the Division of Highways' projection was released at $172 million to replace or repair 25 bridges and ramps from border to border along Interstate 70, but when the three bids were opened the amounts were at least $100 million more if not much more.

The lowest bid opened was $275 million and included total reconstructions of several of the spans along the 14-mile route, as well as paving – again – and an on-call tow company to the tune of $7 million. Tom Smith, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said this week that different options are now under consideration by state officials, and that it is now possible each individual project could be offered to contractors on a singular basis.

"What we have been told most recently by DOH officials is that there will be nothing happening with the road bond project until the project is re-evaluated because the bids came in well over what we estimated," explained Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard. "The bad news is that asphalt prices could be a lot more expensive when this does finally take place.

"I can tell you this for sure," he said. "There's not going to be any paving (on Interstate 70) because the asphalt plants are closing up for the season," he said. "At this point, we'll be stuck with the road conditions we have now until the state can get this project moving forward."

Only a couple of statewide updates have been distributed since August, and one local delegate revealed this week on "Steve Novotney Live" that he supports the investigation suggested by Democrat Bill Ihlenfeld during his run for Senate seat in the 1st District.

"The governor came here and he made promises and one of them was that road bob project on Interstate 70 represented the highest priority in the state of West Virginia," recalled De. Shawn Fluharty (D-3rd). "Not only are other projects around the state in full swing, but no one seems to know much about the future of the I-70 projects at this point.

"Now, the governor's administration said this week that the Department of Transportation is working on reshaping the project, but what does that mean? That's one thing I would like to know," the lawmaker continued. "Does that mean not all the work that is needed to make it all safe will not happen because of the cost? That's information the people of Ohio County deserve to know since the voters overwhelmingly support the road bond project, and that's why I support a move for an investigation."

So, what now?

When a resident hears the term, "rescope," it's DOH lingo for re-design. Fluharty also explained that the project was enhanced a bit when specifications were added when the bid was, "let," or opened to qualified construction companies interested in the work.

The removal of the paving project and towing service would eliminate, according to the projections, more than $35 million from the total, but what else will else will be delayed?

Interstate 70 was cut through the city in the 1950s, erasing neighborhoods in Elm Grove, moving graves from Peninsula Cemetery, and created a significant hole through Wheeling Hill. Once Wheeling Tunnel was completed in December 1966, the brand new "Gateway to the West" was open to a new brand of explorers. These days, as many as 55,000 motorists per day travel through Wheeling along I-70, and an additional 35,000 choose I-470 on a daily basis, according to the most recent DOH traffic studies.

"The numbers speak for themselves, so, without question, these projects have to happen," Sheriff Howard insisted. "You can see the issues, plain and simple, and if someone hasn't, I suggest driving on McColloch Street so they can go under one of the bridges east of Wheeling Tunnel.

"Not only can you see the decay, but you can see all of the diagrams drawn on the pillars that indicate the work that needs performed," he said. "Interstate 70 is in really bad shape so I'm sure everyone who lives in Ohio County wants to see it get started as soon as possible."

("Steve Novotney Live" – 2-6 p.m. – only on the Watchdog Network, AM 1600 WKKX and AM 1370 WVLY)

Categories: Commentary