Residents Want Stone Bridge Open to Traffic

From horse-drawn buggies to modern automobiles, vehicles have been crossing the Elm Grove Stone Bridge for nearly 200 years – and many residents who turned out Thursday for a public workshop concerning the span’s future want to keep it that way.

The three-hour, open house style session at Bridge Street Middle School gave the public an opportunity to give input to West Virginia Division of Highways officials and project engineers who are choosing from among several alternatives to either repair or replace the historic bridge. Over time, some of the original stones have become exposed and the mortar between them has deteriorated, as have the sidewalks that were added in 1931.

The event was well-attended, as more than 40 people signed in within the first hour.

While the DOH stresses the structure – constructed as part of the original National Road by prominent landowner Moses Shepherd in 1817 at the request of his wife Lydia – would not be demolished under any of the proposals, many people said they don’t want to see it become merely a pedestrian bridge, which would happen if the DOH decides to build a new span about 833 feet upriver between the Interstate 70 overpasses.

“If they did that, it would kill whatever’s left of downtown Elm Grove,” said neighborhood resident Bill O’Leary, who believes such action would take too much traffic away from businesses. “Those people are struggling.”

O’Leary also believes the historical integrity of National Road should be maintained. Fellow resident Emma Lou Carle agreed, remarking, “Lydia Shepherd would have a hissy fit. She’d go to Charleston herself.”

An estimated 13,000 vehicles cross the stone bridge each day, and Councilman Eugene Fahey’s concern is with the proposed detour route onto Lumber Avenue and back onto National Road if the stone bridge is closed during the project. He believes a second detour onto Junior Avenue should be added for motorists headed toward Bethlehem and other destinations along W.Va. 88.

“Obviously, the bridge needs repaired,” Fahey said. “The only question is, while it’s being repaired, how do you keep traffic flowing?”

Lifelong Elm Grove resident Fred Hunter recalled jumping off the bridge into Little Wheeling Creek as a child when the water ran high. He and his wife own Deb’s Grove Beauty Salon, which is the last business on the right before the stone bridge for motorists traveling east. Hunter also wants to see the bridge remain open to vehicle traffic, but he’s concerned the entrance to the adjacent, city-owned parking lot which his patrons use may be blocked during construction.

Five construction alternatives have been proposed that range in estimated cost from $3.024 million to $4.837 million including four that would rehabilitate the existing bridge. Building a new bridge is the second-least expensive option, at an estimated $3.146 million.

Another option would be to do nothing, and continue maintaining the structure as is. DOH officials note, however, that costs associated with that maintenance will increase as bridge deterioration continues.

The DOH is accepting written comments on the project through July 2. Send them to: Gregory Bailey, Director Engineering Division, West Virginia Division of Highways State Capitol Complex, Building 5, 1900 Kanawha Boulevard East, Charleston, WV 25305.