Historic Span To Get Facelift

GLEN DALE – Although officials said there are no major concerns with the structure, the West Virginia Division of Highways plans to spend about $8.2 million to renovate the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge.

“The structure is pretty sound at this point. But it is better to do maintenance before you have a problem than to wait until there is a problem,” said Dave Sada, bridge engineer for the DOH District 6 office in Glen Dale.

After Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state Senate President Jeff Kessler announced the project Thursday, Sada said work should begin “sometime over the next year,” noting the structure would need to be temporarily closed during the construction. He did not know the specific time for the project or how long the work would take.

The bridge – built in 1849, when Wheeling was still part of Virginia – last saw significant renovations in 1999, Sada said. The bridge spans the main channel of the Ohio River to connect Virginia Street on Wheeling Island with 10th Street in downtown Wheeling.

Sada said the bridge now has a 4,000-pound weight limit and an 8-foot height limit to help reduce stress on the structure.

Specific plans for the bridge include spending $4.8 million for “minor structure repairs” and $1.8 million for lighting upgrades. Cleaning and painting also will be performed, as well as other small improvements.

The 1999 project included cleaning and painting, lighting upgrades, excavation and unwrapping of the cables for repairs. But that was not the first time major work was performed on the span.

An article in the May 17, 1854, edition of The Wheeling Intelligencer describes a powerful wind storm that destroyed the bridge.

“With feelings of unutterable sorrow, we announce that the noble and world renowned structure, the WHEELING SUSPENSION BRIDGE, has been swept from its strong holds by a terrific storm, and now lies a mass of ruins!” the paper stated that day.

The bridge was later rebuilt, with travel over it resuming in January 1856.

“The bridge has a lot of history, and we are going to take care of it,” Sada added.

Also Thursday, Tomblin and Kessler officially announced the completion of the W.Va. 2 resurfacing project between McMechen and Glen Dale in the area commonly known as the Narrows.

The price tag for the work was $6.3 million for stabilizing and reinforcing the hillside beneath the west side of the roadway and repaving the 1.9-mile stretch of highway.

“After three or four long years – it was a very difficult job – we have the completion of the Narrows work,” Kessler said.

Tomblin said West Virginia has about 36,000 miles of roads. He said DOH workers do a good job repairing roads, as well as removing ice and snow.

“Some people don’t realize how much we depend of these people,” he said.