Protecting Old Suspension Bridge

Ask an engineer today to design a bridge that will last 170 years. Be prepared to be laughed out of his or her office. Not possible, you may be told.

But it is, or was. We have proof of that right here in Wheeling. It is the Suspension Bridge, which opened in 1849. It is both a National Historic Landmark and what some consider to be a precious local treasure.

During its long history, the bridge has faced many threats to its very existence. It was designed to carry horse-drawn wagons across the main channel of the Ohio River, after all. Heavy, wide, tall modern motor vehicles are a danger to it.

Now, the bridge faces yet another period of trial — ironically, because some other bridges in our area were not built to last. They carry Interstate 70 across creeks, ravines and other highways in Ohio County.

State Division of Highways officials plan to replace one of the I-70 bridges and repair more than two dozen others. That will require closing part of I-70, sometimes for months at a time. In turn, that will mean some cars and trucks will be detoured onto other roads and streets. The Suspension Bridge is not on any of the detour routes, we have been told.

Even so, we can expect more traffic than usual on the span. Some drivers attempting to use it will be at the wheels of vehicles much heavier than the two tons permitted on the bridge.

No doubt local and state officials will step up their efforts to keep overweight and oversized vehicles off the bridge. But that always is a challenge. It will become more so once the I-70 project gets underway. Special measures will need to be taken to safeguard the Suspension Bridge.

That will be costly, of course. But the DOH should help fund the protective process.

Keeping our bridge safe is not an optional aspect of the I-70 project. It is imperative. Whatever that requires should be done.

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