W.Va. Division of Highways: Wheeling Suspension Bridge to Remain Closed
WHEELING — The Wheeling Suspension Bridge will remain closed for the foreseeable future after the West Virginia Division of Highways on Monday rejected Mayor Glenn Elliott’s request to reopen the structure.
State Transportation Secretary Byrd White wrote a letter to Elliott on Monday stating that the division will keep the bridge closed to vehicular traffic “until a permanent solution can be developed.”
White further said he doesn’t believe the solutions Elliott proposed to keep the bridge open, such as tolling, weight stations, soft-restraint bars and enforcement cameras, are feasible enough to prevent damage to the bridge.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re probably going to be stuck with a closed bridge for a period of time,” Elliott said. “Obviously, I am disappointed with this response, as it dismisses outright many of the same solutions that WVDOH engineers told us in July were both feasible and worth further exploration.”
Elliott said he plans to follow up with DOH officials to seek more justification for the decision and clarity on plans to perform a full rehabilitation of the bridge.
“What I’m going to do is ask them to expedite their plans to rebuild the bridge,” Elliott said. “It was scheduled for a full replacement of all the cables in 2021 and for some redecking, and I’m going to ask them to expedite that process.”
Earlier in October, Elliott sent a letter to White asking that the division reconsider its decision to indefinitely close the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. The bridge closed to vehicular traffic Sept. 24 after White announced the decision, citing motorists’ disregard of the structure’s weight limit and safety signs.
Elliott said the closure is going to have adverse effects on Wheeling Island residents given the ongoing Interstate 70 construction.
“Having that bridge close down, I’ve talked to senior citizens on the island who never drive on the interstate, who only use that bridge to get to the city, and now they don’t have that. That’s frustrating for them,” Elliott said. “Getting on and off the island is going to be constrained a little bit for at least two years.”
In his letter, White said the DOH still recognizes the Suspension Bridge as a historical transportation landmark.
“Our commitment to maintain and preserve this vital historic landmark remains the same whether or not it carries traffic in our road network, White said.
White also assessed each of the solutions Elliott proposed to keep the bridge open. Tolling could possibly increase the use of the bridge in high peak traffic times, White argued, and the small toll wouldn’t deter drivers.
Space near the bridge wouldn’t be able to accommodate weigh stations, which would also cause traffic congestion, he said. White further argued that soft-restraint bars, limitations to cars and spacing regulations wouldn’t be effective. Additionally, enforcement cameras aren’t a legal method in West Virginia, he said.
“Prior to taking the action of closing the bridge to vehicular traffic, we asked the Public Service Commission (of West Virginia) for suggestions on how to enforce the weight restrictions,” White wrote. “They concluded that there was not a practical solution to ensure compliance.”
Elliott added that West Virginia law affords cities “virtually no authority whatsoever” regarding state roads and bridges within their jurisdictions.
“This is problematic for the simple reason that WVDOH priorities do not always overlap with a city’s priorities, and as a result cities are regularly placed in the position of having to ask permission for changes or improvements to be made that directly impact the lives of their residents,” Elliott said. “I believe it is time for our legislature to consider giving cities a seat at the table where decisions are made involving state roads and bridges.
“You cannot expect traffic engineers living in Charleston to understand what the Suspension Bridge means to residents living on Wheeling Island,” he said.
Previously, the Suspension Bridge closed for about six weeks this summer after a charter bus, in excess of the 2-ton weight limit, crossed it from the Island and caused some damage to the structure. DOH crews installed new barriers to keep oversized vehicles off the span, and it was reopened Aug. 13.
Any future repair work on the bridge would be done by the DOH, and funding for an $8.5 million repair project, delayed for several years, is already in place, city officials previously said.