WEIRTON - An official with the West Virginia Division of Highways has offered updates on various road projects and an explanation for the ramp closings along U.S. Route 22.
The ramps leading from the Veterans Memorial Bridge to Follansbee and from state Route 2 north between Follansbee and downtown Weirton will be closed beginning today while crews work to repair joints and replace concrete sections of approaches to the bridge.
They join the ramp leading to Follansbee from state Route 2 south in Weirton, which was closed Saturday. The closings are expected to remain in effect for three to four weeks.
Dan Sikora, WVDOH district director of construction, said there had not been plans to close the latter ramp. Traffic had been reduced to one lane before the ramp, and vehicles were required to slow or stop before veering onto the southbound ramp, he said.
But four rear collisions occurred in a few hours Saturday morning when other vehicles failed to slow or stop behind them. The accidents and the fact one of the vehicles was a truck carrying hazardous materials led officials to call for the ramp to be closed as a safety precaution, Sikora said.
Sikora said concerns about such collisions and the safety of the construction crews led to the advance decision to close the other ramps. He said the closings were delayed from Tuesday, as announced, to today so crews could post additional signs for the detour and lower speed limits for the work zone.
Sikora said the regular posted speed limit on U.S. Route 22 is 60 miles per hour but the average speed of vehicles there is about 75 miles per hour. To encourage drivers to slow down as they enter the work zone, the posted speed limit will drop gradually to 50 miles per hour in the zone.
"But I recommend drivers travel at 40 miles per hour," he said. He also asks drivers to focus their attention not on cell phones, coffee, makeup or other distractions but on the traffic and road conditions around them.
"We just ask everyone to slow down and be cautious," he said.
During the Follansbee exit ramp's closing, traffic from the Veterans Memorial Bridge bound for Route 2 south will be directed to take the Harmon Creek exit and turn left back onto Route 22.
Southbound traffic on Route 2 bound from Weirton for Follansbee also will be directed to the Harmon Creek exit.
Northbound traffic on Route 2 bound for Weirton will be directed across the Veterans Memorial Bridge to Ohio Route 7, University Boulevard and back onto Route 22.
Sikora said while those are the official detours during the closings, local drivers may find other routes that are more expedient for them, especially during peak morning and rush hour traffic. He said an estimated 15,000 drivers use that section of Route 22 to travel to and from Pittsburgh each day.
He said crews with Carl Kelly Paving of Rayland, Ohio, and various subcontractors will be scheduled around the clock but must halt work at times while the concrete cures. The work is part of a $2.3 million project begun in April and needed to repair the approaches to the bridge, which were built more than 30 years ago, he said.
Sikora asked for drivers' patience through the Route 22 project and other road projects.
Elsewhere along U.S. Route 22 crews with Swank Construction of New Kensington, Pa. have resumed construction of a new bridge at Colliers Way. They had been on hiatus for winter, when it's less practical to pour concrete, Sikora said.
Traffic has been maintained on the existing bridge though individual lanes have been closed at times to accommodate the $6.5 million project, which is expected to be completed this fall.
Built in 1966, the bridge had deteriorated with heavy use. It is part of the primary route to Weirton Medical Center.
Crews with James White Construction of Weirton have relocated water and sewer lines along Pennsylvania Avenue in Weirton between 23rd and 11th streets as part of a $4.5 million project that also will involve re-pavement of the road.
It's expected to be completed in late October.
Further north, crews with Ohio-West Virginia Excavating of Powhatan Point, Ohio have begun removing a section of hillside along Route 2 south of Newell to allow the addition of a left turn lane for large trucks entering the Ergon plant.
The $1.3 million project also includes the construction of a retaining wall, drainage improvements and lighting along the roadway. Crews have been working Monday through Thursday, suspending work on weekends to accommodate visitors to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort.
The work is expected to be completed this fall.