WHEELING, W.Va. — Officials in the Friendly City are looking at all the options when it comes to preservation of the historic Suspension Bridge.
The bridge, one of two national landmarks in Wheeling, has been closed since June 29 when an overweight bus traveled across the structure causing damage to several cables.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott and others in his administration met with state highway officials in recent days and have come up for a short-term solution for protecting the bridge: installing lower beams.
However, the project and repair are going to close the bridge until late August.
“The damage was not deemed to be serious but it is a concern,” Elliott told MetroNews. “What they (DOH) told us in very clear terms was that the bridge could only be reopened from their perspective if some sort of physical barrier was in place to prevent a bus from crossing it again.”
Elliott said the engineering for the project will take time to make sure the beams can withstand being hit by a bus going 20 mph.
The bridge, that connects Downtown Wheeling and Wheeling Island, currently has beams at 12 feet connected by two metal columns. The project would be to lower the beams to 8 feet to prevent any large vehicles to travel on it.
Elliott said the city is mulling over a long-term solution for the bridge that includes a potential toll to cross. He added that the toll could be as low as 5 cents, but by simply making it a toll would prevent the many GPS systems that send charter buses over the bridge to Wheeling Island Casino to not make it the main route.
“That would tell a lot of GPS systems not to use that way. It doesn’t automatically default to send you over a toll. That is one option we are looking at,” Elliott said.
“We have also discussed a weight station at each side of the bridge with arms that go up if your vehicle is under a certain weight.”
A third option by the city is installing cameras at each end of the bridge that would document a car’s license plate and weight. A driver would receive a ticket in the mail if the vehicle is overweight.
He said all options must be considered because the bridge means too much to Wheeling to be damaged more and potentially shut down.
“It’s difficult to put into words how important this bridge is to Wheeling,” Elliott said.
“You look at so many logos across the city of different companies and organizations, so many incorporate that bridge in one way or another. It’s just part of our identity here. We have two national landmarks here in the city of Wheeling, the bridge and Independence Hall. Both are valuable treasures for us.”
The driver of the Pennsylvania-based Lenzner Tour and Travel/Coach USA bus was cited in the June 29 incident for being an overweight vehicle and failure to maintain a traffic control device after violating the two-ton weight limit.
Elliott said the sway cables were damaged on the Island side of the bridge and one or two more overweight buses on the bridge currently could lead to a “catastrophic result.”
A full rehabilitation project is scheduled on the bridge in 2021 that was once known as the “Gateway to the West” in the 1850s and 1860s. The project would address all cables, according to Elliott.
The bridge, which celebrated its 170th birthday just a few days before the incident, remains open to pedestrians and bikes.
Elliott said, “It’s no exaggeration to tell you that bridge is one of the most important things we have in the city and people want to see it here for generations to come.”