As a long-time resident of Wheeling Island, I am perplexed that the West Virginia Department of Highways estimates electrical and lighting work on the historic Suspension Bridge could take two years.
While City Manager Robert Herron rightfully described the planned $8.5 million project as "significant," does it really require two years to complete?
For many of us, the Suspension Bridge is the main link to the Island. Traveling westbound on I-70, it's always much easier - and safer - to exit onto Wheeling exit to Main Street and take the Suspension Bridge to the Island. This means motorists don't have to sit in Fort Henry Bridge off-ramp traffic at Exit 0 that often backs up onto I-70. Can you imagine what the afternoon traffic jam will be like when the Suspension Bridge alternative is out? And what about the drivers trying to get to Ohio 7 north or south via Zane Street on the Island? That two-block stretch of Zane Street will turn into a parking lot.
As you know, there is no eastbound exit from I-70 to the Island. So to avoid the bottleneck named Bridgeport, most Island residents stay on I-70 to Wheeling's Main Street exit and again use the Suspension Bridge. It's a minor amount of backtracking that saves lots of time. That option, too, will be unavailable and eastbound traffic on Route 40 in Bridgeport will be a nightmare.
Won't it be interesting to see how people trying to get to the Island Stadium for football games enjoy this exercise in frustration? And as always happens during any bridge or ramp closure, there will be many motorists who aren't aware of the situation. So that'll leave people turning around at both ends of the bridge to try to find a way on or off the Island, creating even more traffic chaos.
And what about the pedestrians who use the Suspension Bridge every day? Many of them walk to work via that span. Now they'll be forced to use the Fort Henry Bridge and walk beside traffic that typically ignores the speed limit and goes about 65-70 mph.
I appreciate that the Suspension Bridge is an historic treasure, and am totally on board with maintaining wiring and lighting. But the estimated cost and time involved in this project seems way out of line. Put it in perspective: it took two years to construct the original bridge, which opened in 1849. And after it collapsed in a huge storm in May 1854, Wheeling residents were using a temporary bridge by July of the very same year, with a permanent bridge in operation by the time the Civil War began.
Technology has come a long way in 165 years. Let's hope the WVDOH figures out a way to expedite this work.