Tunnel Detour Affects Casino

WHEELING – While the closure of the westbound tube of the Wheeling Tunnel may be a headache for motorists, local business representatives say it is also causing problems for them.

The main detour for the tunnel, which closed Monday, is Interstate 470, forcing motorists who need to do business in downtown Wheeling or on Wheeling Island to use W.Va. 2 south to the 16th Street exit and make their way back to Interstate 70 west through the downtown via Market Street. Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce President Terry Sterling said that while he has heard from some local business owners that the detour may affect their stores and restaurants, it is too soon to tell whether it will hurt them in the long run.

“I really haven’t had a chance to talk to them since, so it is hard to tell,” he said.

One business that planned ahead for the closure is Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack, which depends on the tunnel and I-70 as a pipeline for out-of-state customers.

“Anytime you put something like a detour that makes it harder for customers to get here when convenience is a factor, it is going to be huge,” said Kim Florence, spokeswoman for the casino.

Florence said management at the facility has been working closely with the West Virginia Department of Transportation over the years to help make the facility easier to get to, and this time is no different.

“We’ve been working with them, and they have helped out by putting signs on the detour for the racetrack so that people know how to find us,” she said.

“We know that we are inconveniencing everyone,” said West Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman Brent Walker. “We’ve done our best to meet with the folks at the track and everyone else that is affected to see what we can do to help.”

Florence said extra advertising and marketing has been used to let out-of-state customers know about the detour. She said attracting these customers is one of the main concerns for the casino, especially with the potential for table gambling in Pennsylvania, which could come as early as June during peak construction time.

“We’ve got such a tight margin, and we’ve really got to make sure we can keep the customer base in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Walker said he is sensitive to this challenge.

“We’ve tried to announce these things as far in advance as possible, and luckily Wheeling is not so big that it takes a long time to get around,” he said. “We hope to get in and out and get everything completed on time and let Wheeling and the community continue with their progress.”