Finding City’s $1.5 Million

Two stories in the paper this week involved an interesting coincidence in numbers. Let’s hope Wheeling city officials noticed it.

Story No. 1 was the news that the weight limit on the Washington Avenue Bridge across Wheeling Creek has been decreased drastically. It had been set at 20-33 tons, depending on the type of vehicle using the span.

Now, the limit is five tons, due to structural deterioration of the old bridge, which was erected in 1947. Anyone familiar with that area of Wheeling understands something has to be done. For one thing, as an editorial on this page notes, it’s going to be impossible to enforce the new weight limit.

One estimate for structural replacement of the bridge is $7.4 million. A state program could pay 80% of that. That would leave Wheeling officials to come up with about $1.5 million.

Hmmmm. Where have we seen that number before?

If you guessed, “in stories about the proposed public safety building,” you’re correct.

Wheeling officials want to erect a new building to house the police and fire department headquarters. The cost is estimated at $14.5 million. City Council members and Mayor Glen Elliott seem determined to push ahead with the plan, to the point that council, in a 5-1 vote, approved charging people who work inside the city a $2-per-week ($104 a year) “service fee.” Half of it is to cover the public safety building. The other half is earmarked for infrastructure work.

Of that $14.5 million, $2 million would be needed to obtain a site for the public safety building, under the current proposal. More than $500,000 would go to the owner of an old warehouse on 19th Street (actually, the money would be donated to a foundation the owner, Frank Calabrese, has said he established).

The remaining $1.5 million would cover demolishing the old warehouse and preparing the site for construction of the public safety building. No one knows how much expensive hazardous materials remediation would be needed.

That seems like a lot of money just to get a piece of ground ready for use. One wonders how many people outside government would be willing to spend that much — or whether they would look around for something cheaper.

Find a lot where the total cost would be $500,000 and — presto — the Washington Avenue Bridge is covered.

Here’s the thing about government at all levels — local, state and federal. Public officials love new things. They’re great for getting your picture on page one as you cut the ribbon to open the new … whatever.

Keeping old things in good repair isn’t nearly as appealing. Ever seen the governor cutting a ribbon to dramatize repairs to a slip that has eaten away one lane of a highway? No, you haven’t (but with Gov. Jim Justice, who knows?).

That’s why highways and bridges in our area are in such deplorable condition. It’s why residents of Steubenville have to pay substantially higher water rates, because critical repairs and upgrades were ignored for many years. It’s why St. Clairsville officials are ready to throw up their hands and sell their water and sewer systems to a private company. It’s why …

Well, I could go on. You get the picture. For a long, long time, public officials at all levels have been busy adding new infrastructure to the inventories of neglected existing infrastructure. Inevitably, the piper has to be paid at some point.

You can’t really blame government officials, I suppose. We reward them for building new while letting the old go to pot. We don’t penalize them when they tell us that unless we agree to higher taxes, Road A can’t be repaired and Bridge B will have to be closed. No one ever seems to ask why money wasn’t being set aside for replacements and preventive maintenance was being neglected.

Maybe if we did run a picture of the governor patching a pothole …

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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