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Officials discuss future of Elkins Swinging Bridge

ELKINS — The future of the Elkins Swinging Bridge was discussed by Elkins City Council’s Municipal Properties Committee Wednesday in response to letters from residents demanding action.

Elkins City Council has received two letters from local citizens concerning the bridge, and the letter writers requested a response from council in writing by Feb. 28. The bridge crosses the Tygart River between the southern end of the Elkins Railyard and Baxter Street, and was closed for safety reasons in 2016.

Residents of Chestnut Street and the surrounding neighborhood spoke during the meeting’s public comment section Wednesday to ask for assistance.

“My nephew used to push my mother across that bridge to get her to the doctor, to get her to the hospital,” Robert Collett said. “Now, after (the city) took the ends off of the bridge, they had to go clear to the Coke plant to go around to get to town. Either that or go down towards Industrial Park to go to the hospital. (…) I think there needs to be some kind of decision made on what (the city) can do for us in that community.”

Larry Warner, the author of the first letter sent to city officials, said, “I used to use (the bridge) to go to my doctors’ appointments and everything. Now I’m forced to ride my wheelchair in the road with the traffic because of the sidewalks. They need redone. They need maintenance. We also need crosswalks put in.”

Janet Crider, author of the second letter, added, “The day before (the city) tore the ends off of that bridge, I was on that bridge with my power chair. It never moved (…) and I was about as safe as I could be.”

In response to the comments, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Karen Wilmoth said she has been seeking out funding options that will allow Elkins to build a replacement bridge at little cost to the city.

“(The city) can’t afford to put out $125,000 out of pocket today for this bridge, so we’re looking for as much funding as we can and hopefully getting it to a level that the city can afford,” she said.

“I met with (the Elkins Historic) Landmarks Commission and spoke with them about the concern about ownership of the bridge and they’re going to check their records to see if they can find anything,” Wilmoth said. “It’s inferred that the city owns the bridge but there’s nothing in writing. I would think granting agencies would need to know that we actually own the bridge that we’re asking them to give us money to replace.”

City Clerk Jessica Sutton noted that despite the city not being sure of the ownership of the bridge, removing the access points on either end was still within the city’s jurisdiction. Because of the safety issue, the city was able to treat the bridge as it would a dilapidated property, she said.

Wilmoth said, “I want to make it clear that my goal in asking for this to be back on the agenda was not necessarily to rehab or fix the swinging bridge, but so that you have a bridge so that people have a way to get across and over there.”

Despite the fact that the bridge is not within her ward, Wilmoth noted she was interested in making progress on the issue last summer when she was appointed to council.

The Swinging Bridge actually falls between Elkins’ second and third wards, city officials said Wednesday.

In 2016, Elkins City Council voted to reject a state Department of Transportation Division of Highways grant that would have provided 80 percent of the funds needed to demolish the Elkins Swinging Bridge, and construct one that is ADA compliant in its place.

The city initially applied for the grant through the DOH Transportation Alternatives/Recreational Trail Program.

“This grant award would have paid for 80 percent of the estimated project cost of $550,075, requiring the city to fund at least $110,000 and then 100 percent of any overruns,” Sutton Stokes, the city’s external affairs specialist, told The Inter-Mountain this week.

He also noted the bridge would need to be replaced entirely as swinging bridges are not compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Stokes said Wednesday the Municipal Properties meeting was just a starting point.

“It’s not certain that a feasible option will be found. Even if a feasible option for replacing the bridge is found, we would be talking about a several-year process at the very least,” Stokes said.

“In the meantime, we’d like to remind residents of the option of using Country Roads Transit to get to medical and other appointments around town,” he said. “In addition to CRT’s scheduled routes, they will make at-home pickups with one day’s notice. If cost is an issue for patients needing to get to appointments at Davis Health System, assistance is sometimes available through the Davis Health System Foundation.”

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