State negligent on covered bridge

When people think of Philippi, the image that immediately pops into their head is the covered bridge. The bridge draws many tourists, especially during the Blue and Gray Festival. Yet, visitors taking in the view and pointing their cameras will find an abused landmark. The bridge’s paint is peeling off and sends the message that West Virginia is derelict in its duties when it comes to respecting its own history.

The bridge has not been painted since the post-fire restoration in 1991. The city of Philippi can do nothing to paint the bridge, because it is part of a U.S. highway system. This means the state of West Virginia is responsible for it. The city of Philippi, including the mayor, has repeatedly lobbied the state through letters and phone calls. While the state promised years ago to paint the bridge before the Blue and Gray Festival, multiple festivals have since passed.

The covered bridge has great historical value. It was built in 1852 to replace a ferry that was the existing means to cross the Tygart River. It helped to create the Beverly and Fairmont Pike. This road then became part of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The turnpike linked western Virginia with Richmond and Norfolk. During the first land battle of the Civil War, the bridge played a key role in the battle strategies of both Union and Confederate forces. In 1972 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite its age, it has been quite the survivor. In 1989, it caught fire and was severely damaged. The bridge was restored by 1991. The Philippi covered bridge is one of only six remaining two-lane covered bridges in the country. In addition it is the only covered bridge that is part of a federal highway, U.S. 250.

Bridges do get painted in West Virginia, but they seem to be much bigger projects. Two bids -one in 2013 and one in 2014 – were offered by the West Virginia Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority for painting the Yeager Bridge in Charleston. This bridge is part of an interstate and therefore the state likely received federal funds. Painting the Philippi covered bridge will require less funding. Though most likely unnecessary, federal funds could be pursued: the bridge is on a U.S. Highway and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The bottom line is that Tomblin has no excuse for letting the Philippi bridge start to dilapidate.

Tomblin needs to immediately dispatch a team of painters. The state’s negligence is embarrassing to both the city of Philippi and the entire state. As the coal industry is phased out and West Virginia relies more on tourism, the state needs to learn how to take better care of our attractions. Demanding that the governor restore the image of such an important icon is not asking for much. Painting is not a costly venture. With each passing day, more tourists stop by at the covered bridge park and witness the impression that West Virginia’s infrastructure is no better maintained than that of a third-world country.