For the first time in more than six years, traffic is moving - unimpeded by construction obstacles - on the section of Interstate 71 over the Little Miami River on the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge.
More than 40,000 cars a day cross this 2,300-foot bridge, on the way between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. State transportation officials expect to complete the project within the $104 million budget.
“The completion of this project will have an enormous benefit to Ohio,” Ohio Department Of Transportation District 8 Deputy Director Tammy Campbell said for a ribbon-cutting in November. “Pulling this project together was an enormous undertaking and its efficient completion is a tribute to our project team.”
Since construction began in June 2010, 50 to 80 workers have been involved in replacing the existing bridge, completed in 1964 for about $5.2 million. In 1973, it was named after a Warren County resident who was Ohio’s ninth governor, a state and federal lawmaker and the first president of the Little Miami Railroad.
The bridge is Ohio’s highest, standing 239 feet above the river and multi-use trail.
The construction contractor, Kokosing Construction, is to be paid $88 million. Ominpro Services was paid $10 million for site services, HNTB $6 million for the design.
In addition to replacing and improving the existing two-lane spans headed north and south on I-71, just north of the Ohio 123 exit in Warren County, the project prepares the bridge for the widening of the interstate.
“That’s probably the most significant aspect of the bridge,” Warren County Engineer Neil Tunison said.
Tunison complimented the state and contractors on minimizing traffic problems and lane closures.
During construction, two people died in fatal crashes along the stretches of I-71 approaching the bridge.
William Felton, 52, of Morrow, was killed in August 2012 in a six-vehicle crash near the bridge. Felton’s PT Cruiser was sandwiched between two vehicles after being rear-ended by a semi-trailer.
Ronald Hoeffler Jr., 51, of Lebanon was killed in April 2015 in a crash involving three semi-trailers and his work van. Hoeffler was killed when a semi failed to stop for traffic slowed due to bridge construction.
“Hopefully with it being completed, more lives will be saved and people will be able to travel through there safely,” said Corey Hoeffler, one of the victim’s children last week.
The bridge is also used by people attempting and committing suicide. The new design includes barrier walls 52 inches tall, 16 inches higher than the previous bridge.
In November, dignitaries gathered for a ribbon-cutting symbolizing completion of the major construction that prompted the closing of lanes, setting of orange barrels and slowing of traffic.
“The new structures will help to keep people safe and commerce moving in Ohio,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray. “They will serve the people for several decades.”
Contractors continue to put the finishing touches on the project, expected to wind up in May with the reopening of the rest area just north of the bridge. On Wednesday, concrete and steel sections of the old bridge were being cut away and removed.
“There’s still work to remove the old bridge. There’s some other minor things we have to do out there to get the rest area open again,” ODOT spokesman Brian Cunningham said.