By Steve Novotney
Since Weelunk published an article last weekend that concerned the future of the Aetnaville Bridge, a group of Wheeling Island residents started a petition on Change.org, and other media outlets have since covered its inevitable demise.
As of noon Friday, the petition had garnered 657 signatures, and the goal is 1,000 names of those who would like to see the bridge remain as it is today.
The petition can be found on the Internet at this address:
The bridge opened in 1891 as a span for buggies and pedestrians over the back channel of the Ohio River, connecting the North End of Wheeling Island to Aetnaville, Ohio. It was designed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, and it includes four spans, three pier supports, and measures 440 feet in length. The bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 1988 because of safety concerns.
While the effort to save what many consider to be a piece of history is admirable, the 123-year-old bridge will likely splash down into the back channel before it reaches 125 years old in spite of the support to save it.
Ownership and liability.
If a walkway or bridge-decking collapse were to take place, causing injury or death, the state of West Virginia would be sued for millions of dollars, and that means the only option is to bring it down and sell it for scrap, according to Dave Sada from the state’s Division of Highways.
“To determine everything that is wrong with it now, after it sat there for more than 20 years, would cost a lot of money,” he said. “The inspection alone would run about $120,000, and money is really, really tight right now.”
Sada, who is in charge of the Bridge Department for DOH District 6, explained that state taxpayers will never fund what repairs would be necessary to preserve what stands today.
“It’s rotted. It’s no good. That kind of project would not be feasible,” he insisted.
How much would constructing a shiny new vehicular bridge cost? He estimated $50 million.
“That’s not going to happen either,” Sada said.
Would the state of West Virginia sell it?
“They’d sell for a dollar, I think,” he said. “But that’s not up to me. That’s a Charleston thing.
“We’ve talked about giving it away to the ‘Rails to Trails’ folks, too, but that’s a huge burden for an organization with very little money,” Sada added. “I think the best thing that can happen is that we take the bridge down, and then a pedestrian bridge replaces it so the residents can keep that access.”
And I agree. We wouldn’t want a similar nightmare to what is currently connected to the former Bellaire Toll Bridge, now would we?
The access, for walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and those escaping flooding events, must continue, and the city of Wheeling should immediately partner with “Rails to Trails” to get the funding organized (Such a bridge would cost, approximately, between $200,000-$500,000.) and to ensure the proper timing for construction.
It’s a “quality of life” issue. It’s a “matter of the people.”
And it’s an “Island thing.”