Wheeling Suspension Bridge reopens to motorists
WHEELING — “I’m glad to see it open again,” a motorist yelled from her car Tuesday afternoon just before crossing the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
She was referring to West Virginia Division of Highways crews reopening the 170-year-old structure shortly after they finished installing temporary hard barriers and reflective signage at both ends of the span over the past two days to prohibit large buses or trucks from crossing the span. The DOH reopened the structure about 2 p.m. Tuesday after it was closed to motorists more than six weeks ago after a charter bus that exceeded the 2-ton weight limit drove across the span and compromised its integrity.
The newly installed “temporary” steel beams are located 7 feet, 6 inches above the road to prohibit a another “bus-type” incident from occurring, according to DOH and City of Wheeling officials. In the meantime, Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said he recognizes the importance of the span to the local community and city officials will continue to look for ways to keep the bridge open in the years to come.
“I am very pleased that the WVDOH was able to work closely with city officials and identify and implement a sound short-term strategy to reopen the bridge In such a way that makes it available for vehicular traffic but protects it from oversized buses and trucks,” Elliott said. ” I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead to identify a permanent solution that ensures that this historic landmark remains standing for generations to come.”
Elliott said they will continue to examine other options, such as possibly putting tolls and/or weigh stations at both ends of the bridge in the future or possibly installing cameras to be able to ticket motorists who violate the weight limits. Elliott said closing the bridge is viewed as being “a last resort.”
Meanwhile, Wheeling Island residents and workers expressed extreme delight at the news the structure was reopened to motorists.
“It’s inconvenient when it’s not open for a lot of people who live over here,” Wheeling Island resident Wendy Kirkland explained. “It’s so old. It’s historic.”
Island Coffee shop employee Jeanie Waterhouse said she was surprised by the news the bridge had reopened.
“I’m surprised. I thought they were sill working on it today — then they reopened it,” she said. “It’s nice to see traffic going across it again. I would think it would help pick up business, because a lot of people don’t want to go clear around.”
West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Bridge Engineer Patrick Gurrera said the DOH is working on plans for more permanent constraints and signage to be installed at both approaches to the bridge; however, he is unsure how long that process might require. He said a renovation project is scheduled for the span sometime in 2021 to take care of “a lot of the issues” on the bridge.
The span was closed the evening of 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.