Downtown Wheeling workers can take trolley

WHEELING — A 24-passenger trolley will loop from 10th to 22nd streets to transport employees between parking garages and their places of employment, thanks to a $60,000 commitment by the Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority board.

“We’re absorbing the cost up front to see what the demand is,” OVRTA Executive Director Tom Hvizdos said after a Wednesday board meeting during which members voted unanimously to proceed with the plan. “No one knows what the true demand is yet.”

Hvizdos said the shuttle service will begin in January, initially running for two hours each weekday morning and another two hours in the afternoon. He said the operating hours may be 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., although the times could be adjusted slightly depending upon the determined demand.

The $60,000 will fund the service for about six months.

“If you have a bus pass, we will honor it,” Hvizdos said, adding the trolley will initially be open to anyone, just as a regular OVRTA bus is. Standard fare is $1.30.

However, some employers ultimately may decide to contribute to the service, according to City Manager Robert Herron, who also chairs the OVRTA board. This could result in some passengers being allowed to board the trolley simply by showing their company identification.

“The Health Plan approached the city about a loop to get their employees back and forth,” Herron said, adding he will check with other firms to gauge their interest in the shuttle.

Hundreds more workers soon will arrive in downtown Wheeling with the pending opening of The Health Plan headquarters. These employees will join those already working with companies such as Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Williams Lea Tag, WesBanco, Ohio Valley Medical Center and many others.

At the same time, there are about 50 people on a waiting list for the 73-unit Boury Lofts apartment complex, while new housing developments are potentially in the works for several other downtown structures, including the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building and Flatiron Building. All of this adds up to more people, and more vehicles, in the downtown and Center Wheeling areas, which led Herron to ask Hvizdos about establishing the trolley.

Herron said the 10th Street parking garage is almost full, due largely to Williams Lea Tag being in the nearby Stone Center. Also, the Center Wheeling garage soon will undergo $4 million in renovation work because Wheeling City Council agreed to the repairs as part of helping California-based Alecto Healthcare Services operate OVMC.

This leaves the seven-level Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center on Main Street. From the time of its opening approximately 20 years ago, city leaders have struggled to find customers willing to pay the $40 monthly fee to park in the garage. Herron said The Health Plan’s presence — combined with the work required at the Center Wheeling structure — could change this.

“When The Health Plan really gets going in January, we are going to have a problem with parking,” Herron said.

OVRTA officials will try using the trolley to get those parking at garages to their job sites. Hvizdos said this will be the first time such a service has been in downtown Wheeling since the area’s heyday as a retail destination in the 1970s.

“It’s definitely something that is part of helping downtown Wheeling come back,” he said. “This is something that most downtown areas in larger cities have.”

Hvizdos said the route will call for the trolley to stop at the Capitol Theatre; travel south on Main Street to the intermodal; continue south on Main Street until making a left onto 20th Street; turn right onto Chapline Street; stop at the Center Wheeling garage; turn right at 22nd Street before making another right onto Market Street; continue north toward the 1100 block, at which point there will be two stops that employees of The Health Plan may elect to use; and continue north before turning left onto 10th Street and finally turning left back onto Main Street to reach the Capitol.

“This is all preliminary and subject to change, depending upon what we find in terms of demand and who might be interested,” Hvizdos said.

The next OVRTA board meeting is set for 4 p.m. Jan. 10 at 21 S. Huron St., Wheeling.

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