Crews installing hard barriers
No timeline specified for reopening of historic suspsension bridge
WHEELING — West Virginia Division of Highways District Bridge Engineer Patrick Gurrera said the state is working as quickly as it can to reopen the 170-year-old Wheeling Suspension Bridge as crews worked Monday to install temporary hard barriers at both entrances to the historic span.
While Gurrera could not specify a timeline for reopening the span, he said crews are currently in the process of installing lower temporary hard barriers at both ends of the bridge this week after the bridge was closed to motorists more than six weeks ago when a charter bus that exceeded the 2-ton-weight limit drove across the span and compromised its integrity.
Gurrera said DOH officials needed to address the issue of keeping overweight vehicles from crossing the structure before it could be reopened to motorists. The bridge has remained open to pedestrian and cyclists since the charter bus incident.
Gurrera said while they needed to address the overweight violations before reopening the suspension bridge, there is a renovation project scheduled for the span sometime in 2021 “to take care of a lot of the issues” on the bridge.
“We are temporarily putting up a hard constraint at both approaches. There is another project that they’re trying to advance quickly in order to have the official hard constraints and advance warning signs put up,” he said.
He said he is still unsure when the more permanent constraints will be put in place because of the planning process and modifications that may need to be made before they can implement a permanent plan.
“I don’t know exactly how long it is going to take,” Gurrera added. “We’re planning on reopening the bridge once the temporary overhead constraints are installed.”
It was just a few weeks ago that City of Wheeling officials met with DOH officials to determine the long range plans for the structure.
At that time, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and City Manager Robert Herron announced the bridge would continue to be closed for several weeks until temporary “hard barriers” could be put in place. Elliott said the DOH officials expressed their concerns about another bus-type incident happening in the future.
“So they’ve taken the position, ‘We cannot reopen the bridge and sign off on it without a physical barrier that prevents a bus from getting on the bridge,’ and that’s non-negotiable from their perspective” Elliott said at the time.
In the meantime, Elliott said they will continue to examine other options, such as possibly putting tolls and/or weigh stations in at both ends of the bridge in the future. He said another idea is to install cameras to be able to ticket motorists who violate the weight limits in place. Elliott said closing the bridge is still viewed as being “a last resort.” He said it is very important for the residents of Wheeling Island to have access to the span.
The span was closed June 29 after a Lenzner Tour and Travel/Coach USA bus crossed the structure. The driver of the bus was cited by Wheeling Police for driving an overweight vehicle across the structure and failure to obey a traffic control device.