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Debate Over Two-Way Traffic Plan Heats Up in Wheeling

Photo by Casey Junkins Wheeling resident Sarah Hall signs the petition Charles Ballouz is circulating against two-way traffic on Main and Market streets in the downtown area.

WHEELING –Mayor Glenn Elliott said he believes two-way traffic on Main and Market streets will make downtown Wheeling safer and more appealing for those looking to live or establish businesses in the area.

Elliott’s plan faces significant opposition, however, as evidenced by about 500 signatures, which downtown resident Charles Ballouz has collected via petition against the concept.

“It’s hard for us to cross the streets as they are now,” said Ballouz. “If this happens, we’re going to have to worry about cars coming both ways.”

Wheeling Planning Commissioner Howard Monroe said he is perplexed by Elliott’s proposal.

“I just see no value to it whatsoever,” said Monroe. “I do not see how this brings in more business, nor do I see how it helps current businesses.

“You don’t do something new just for the sake of doing something new,” he said.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, the city of Wheeling, West Virginia Division of Highways and Bel-O-Mar Regional Council will host a public meeting regarding the matter at the West Virginia Northern Community College B&O Building, 1704 Market St. Elliott said the West Virginia DOH consultant will release the final study regarding two-way traffic during this meeting.

“There is ample science on this topic that one-way traffic is better for moving cars quickly, whereas two-way traffic, which is proven to slow down traffic speeds, is better for the pedestrian experience,” said Elliott.

For several decades, for the area between the Wheeling Tunnel and 16th Street, the pattern has been that vehicles on Main Street drive south, while those on Market Street drive north. Last year, Elliott and fellow city council members voted to spend $45,000 to study allowing two-way traffic. The cost was later reduced to $4,500 because state and federal officials agreed to cover 90 percent of the bill.

“People should not be so quick to dismiss something new without seeing the results of the study,” said Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday while urging residents to attend the meeting.

If Division of Highways officials green-light the project, Elliott and fellow council members would need to vote to enact the policy. Though Councilman Dave Palmer remains open-minded, he said he will need to be convinced to support the idea.

“I’ve not had one person contact me who is in favor of it,” said Palmer. “I’ve had six to eight contacts from people who are against it.

“Like most people, I am looking forward to Wednesday night,” he said. “I want to listen and learn like everybody else.”

Vice Mayor Chad Thalman said he is not sure how he would vote on two-way traffic because of potential problems at the Interstate 70 interchanges at the north end of downtown. The idea of making changes intrigues him, though.

“Urban planners call what we have in downtown Wheeling, ‘stroads.’ They are supposed to be streets, but we are treating them as roads,” said Thalman.

Councilman Brian Wilson said he is not committed to a vote, but said the only way to change the status quo is to consider new ideas.

“I never expected this issue to evoke such strong emotions,” said Wilson. “I am fascinated by how strong the opinions are. Everybody is so quick to dismiss the idea without even seeing the report.”

In the view of Councilman Ty Thorngate, the amount of public discourse regarding two-way traffic downtown shows government is working.

“Ultimately, as a council, we ran on the idea of being very transparent,” said Thorngate. “We wanted to see if this was feasible. We are not just trying to ram this down everyone’s throat. We want the public’s input.”

Councilman Ken Imer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Steve Coon, who hopes to turn the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building on Market Street into a $20 million apartment tower, said this week he supports the two-way traffic plan.

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