WELCH, W.Va. — A low underpass in Welch has become a major obstacle for many trying to get in and out of the McDowell County seat over the course of time. The underpass on Lower McDowell Street is often flooded when the Tug Fork River leaves its banks. Even a previously constructed flood wall offers no protection from the highest waters.
The underpass is also an obstacle for large trucks trying to move in and out of the city. The Welch Police Department reports an average of one accident a month in the underpass which blocks traffic anywhere from a few minutes to several hours depending on severity.
Jason Grubb, Business Development Specialist for the City of Welch, said it’s a serious problem.
“In any given year we have 12 to 14 times between high water and accidents where it’s impassable on U.S. 16 to get from Welch and the majority of McDowell County to the hospital,” he explained.
However, despite the seriousness of the matter, it’s not one the city can afford to fix. Grubb and other city officials hope the city will qualify for a federal earmark, which has been reinstated in the federal budget making process, to make a change.
“We’re requesting an earmark be put in for a bridge to go over top of the railroad. Instead of an underpass, make it an overpass,” Grubb explained.
City leaders Monday evening provided an opportunity for local residents to come out and take a look at conceptual drawings and get more information on what the city hopes to do.
“We think it would alleviate all the problems from flooding and accidents and would also in the future, as the Coalfields Expressway is built, allow vehicles a little larger carrying commerce on interstate traffic to be able to come into Welch instead of having to go through Bluefield and down U.S. 52 to get on one side of Welch and come down 16 on the Beckley side to get to the other side of Welch,” he explained.
In some cases, trucks must take a two hour detour to go 1/8th of a mile in Welch.
“Our estimate is $6 to $10 Million to build this bridge. Overall that’s not that large a sum of money, but that’s not something we can’t fund. We would absolutely need state and federal assistance to build a bridge like this,” he explained.