Wheeling City Council Supports West Virginia Road Bond Proposal
Tolls on Interstate 70 are opposed
WHEELING — Forcing drivers from Ohio or Pennsylvania to stop at a potential Interstate 70 toll booth is not the way Mayor Glenn Elliott wants to welcome visitors to Wheeling.
However, he and fellow city council members support a statewide bond issue for road improvements set to go before voters next month that would bring $172 million to Ohio County for Interstate 70 bridge upgrades.
During their meeting Tuesday, council unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the referendum, which would authorize the Legislature to issue $1.6 billion in bonds to support $1.9 billion in planned highway projects. The election is on Oct. 7, but early voting begins Friday.
“Our infrastructure is in dire need. If nothing is done about it, I hate to think about what will happen,” West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Engineer Gus Suwaid told council members during a presentation before their vote on the resolution. “We’re overused, aged and underfunded.”
During a conference call with reporters last week, Gov. Jim Justice said he could not rule out the possibility of tolls on the portion of I-70 that runs through West Virginia. Some area lawmakers expressed concern about that possibility after the Legislature passed a bill giving the West Virginia Parkways Authority the ability to charge tolls after construction of new roads or major improvements to existing highways.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Elliott said he hopes Mountain State residents will pass the bond issue, but he urged state leaders to avoid discussion of I-70 becoming a toll road.
“Tolls are not the solution to our road problems,” Elliott said. “I do not support tolls on Interstate 70.”
If the bond referendum passes, $172 million will be headed to Ohio County to repair bridges along I-70. Elliott said the condition of the I-70 bridges within city limits is not only a safety hazard, but a reflection on the entire community.
“When you drive across a bridge with a lot of potholes in it, that doesn’t leave you with a good impression. You have to invest in infrastructure. Fortune 500 companies aren’t going to come to Wheeling with our infrastructure in this kind of shape,” he said.
In another matter, council’s Rules Committee gave tentative approval to an ordinance requiring those who own buildings in a “business district” to remove snow and ice from sidewalks promptly. Wheeling already has a snow and ice removal ordinance, but the current proposal would allow the city to clear a sidewalk if property owners fail to do so within 24 hours, then bill them for the service.
Officials said the zones included would likely be downtown, Centre Market, the area along National Road in Elm Grove, and the area along Zane Street on Wheeling Island.
“We have a lot of elderly folks who live in the downtown area,” Elliott said. “We have to make sure it is safe for them to walk on the sidewalk.”
During the discussion, City Manager Robert Herron said he hoped officials could accomplish this without hiring additional workers.
“I am not naive enough to think we can get every single dollar back,” Herron said of the cost for doing this work. “It wouldn’t be a flat fee — it would depend on the size of the lot.”
City leaders said the planned opening of The Health Plan headquarters in the 1100 block of Main and Market streets, with several hundred employees entering the downtown area within a few months, is also a major driver of snow removal.
During the meeting, downtown resident Charles Ballouz asked council to give consideration to those who may be unable to remove all the snow in a prompt manner, as long as they make some effort to “clear a path.”
The committee approved the snow removal ordinance, but the full council will need to vote on it before it becomes law.