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Suspension Bridge users: Obey the signs
May 30, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
Especially after the stories about the Belmont County bridges being in bad shape— so bad that school buses aren't allowed to cross them — and then the Interstate 5 bridge collapse in Washington state, you would think drivers would be mindful of the safety regulations on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
I love the Suspension Bridge. It is my favorite Wheeling landmark. I love that it was built by Irish and Scottish masons, among other hard workers in 1849. I love its historical significance, being the longest span of its kind in the world when it was built. I use it all the time, whenever I am going from my house to downtown Wheeling. I don't want to see it destroyed by people who don't follow the rules. Nor do I want to see people get hurt.
So, what are the rules, you ask? Well, they are posted right there at the entrances from the island and downtown. First, cars should be at 50-feet intervals, not lined up bumper to bumper as I witnessed this morning. In fact, coming from the island, there are TWO signs right next to each other that state that fact, with the second one warning "Strictly Enforced." I confess I have not always kept a 50-foot distance from the car in front of me. But sitting bumper to bumper is insane. I know it's because of the sign work and restricted lanes on the I-70 Fort Henry Bridge that people are using the Suspension Bridge as a detour. But I will tell you I turned my car around and chose to sit in the Fort Henry Bridge traffic rather than risk a plunge into the river. And I will be following the rule from now on. Honk at me all you want.
Trucks are prohibited — there's a sign right there with a truck and a red circle and slash through it. Trucks constantly use the bridge, though. This morning, I saw a local business' work truck turning onto Main from the bridge. The weight limit is 2 tons. That truck was definitely over weight. Two tons is 4,000 pounds. Your mid-size sedan, wagon or SUV is probably over the limit. A Subaru Outback, for instance, pushes the weight limit. The Outback has a 3,500 pound curb weight -- that doesn't include passengers, fuel and cargo. Here's a link to some car weights provided by Motor Trend and USA Today. You should be able to find your vehicle's weight on the inside of the driver side door or in your user's manual.
The speed limit is 25 miles per hour, also posted. I've seen cars treat it like a raceway.
I spoke with David Sada from the bridge division of West Virginia Department of Transportation District 6 today about what I witnessed this morning. He said overweight trucks are a "continual problem" on the Suspension Bridge. And the car-length interval is a measure put in place so weight is distributed such that it does not overburden the span. When it is not followed, "it can't help the bridge," he said.
Mr. Sada assured me the bridge was inspected just last week by a Weirton firm, and the inspectors found "no major structural loss." The cable that recently was replaced on the bridge had nothing to do with violations of the weight limit, he said.
But he also said he will be contacting the Wheeling Police Department to keep an eye out for violators. The signs are just like any other road sign and must be obeyed.
"It's like a stop sign. Stop means stop. Two tons means two tons," he said.
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Wheeling Suspension Bridge File Photo by Scott McCloskey