New Martinsville's Main Street/Brooklyn Bridge has been closed since March, but area residents' travel woes caused by the bridge closure are ongoing.
Unfortunately, according to District Six Bridge Engineer Dave Sada, the structure will not go to construction until the end of February. After construction begins, he estimates five to six months until completion, approximately July or August 2014.
"There are some hoops that you have to go through," Sada stated during his interview. "So far we still have not gotten the 404 permit. In order to get the contract, you must have a 404 permit from the Corps of Engineers and the DNR . . . The contract has not been advertised or awarded yet, but if everything falls into place, with all the uproar we have had with this structure, I think they'll award it sooner."
The Main Street bridge in New Martinsville has been closed since March 6, causing big problems for residents of an area of Brooklyn now accessible by vehicle only by crossing the railroad track that is often blocked for extended periods.
On June 19, 2012, the Wetzel County Commission decided to place a 15-ton weight limit on the bridge due to bridge inspection findings that deemed the bridge as being in "poor" condition. "We didn't have to do it, but decided to until the state comes in to revitalize the piers," Commission President Mason stated at the time.
A second bridge inspection was then conducted in June 2012. These findings were mailed to the county commissioners in late February. On March 6, 2013, the bridge was closed, per the findings of the inspection. Commission Vice President Bob Gorby reported at the previous week's meeting on Feb. 27 that the commission had spoken with Paul A. Mattox Jr., West Virginia's Commissioner of Highways/Secretary of Transportation to try to expedite the bridge repair.
At the time, Brooklyn's residents appeared to be accepting of the bridge repair, as county and city officials worked with residents and it appeared as if every stakeholder would be cooperating. "The county is very fortunate to have leaders like you," said area resident Earl Smith on March 6 to the county commission. "You have been very helpful in getting things done and making it so we understand what is going on. This thing popped up all of a sudden, but we got things worked out. Things are going to run smoothly. The railroad is going to be cooperative," he had stated at the time.
Since then, according to reports from Brooklyn's residents, the railroad does not appear to be cooperating.
"I know CSX is in the business to make money," area resident Charlie Myers began during an interview by phone with the Wetzel Chronicle. "But they will block the crossings in Brooklyn for 35 to 45 minutes at a time. At times they will pull up far enough so they can throw the switch. That's just a couple of car lengths to opening the crossing, but they won't do that. They will just back up."
Myers remembers a specific incident on July 4 when he was trying to run a couple of errands. "I waited for over 45 minutes to get across the train tracks, to get to my house. At that time, I had called the yard office and asked when they'd have a crossing cleared. The guy who answered said it would be a while yet because the conductor was 50 car lengths deep into the yard. It was at least another 20 minutes. What if there had been an ambulance there or a fire truck there?"
There is a plan in place for such an event. The bridge is blocked by a gate to which emergency personnel have a key. In the event that there was an emergency in the isolated area and a train was blocking the land entrance, they can open the gate and cross the bridge.
Contrary to some rumors that even emergency vehicles cannot cross the bridge, the original Fishing Creek overpass plan has not changed.
As a side note, while certainly not as convenient and expedient as vehicular travel, the bridge can be crossed by any pedestrian.
The bridge situation does not appear to be new to the residents of Brooklyn though. Myers said most of the residents, and especially a lot of boaters, knew there was a problem with the bridge for two years. "Every time the creek was low, you could see the missing stones on that side of the pier," he stated.
Sada appeared to agree: "Every year the divers found that the condition of the piers are getting worse, so it was determined that the most prudent thing to do was to close the bridge to traffic."
Despite those remarks Sada made last week, on June 4 of this year, on Sada's recommendation, the bridge was set to reopen. However, an inspection report from Bridge Inspector Allen Hall of the West Virginia Department of Transportation arrived just in the nick of time. The inspection report showed that a pier on the north end of the bridge was learning four inches. These findings led the commission to keep the bridge closed. "That's what we base all our decisions on," President Mason had said at the time, "the inspection report that comes in from the Department of Engineering."
Myers says he has been late to work six to eight times because of the long wait at the railroad crossing and he has also been late running errands on weekends. A trip to the grocery store can take an extra hour-and-a-half because of waiting at the crossing on the way to the grocery store and waiting at the crossing on the way back from the store.
Myers said his mother lived next door to him but is now living with his brother in Paden City due to the long wait at the railroad crossing. "She's elderly and she's sick," he said. Myers added that two neighbors of his are both elderly and not in good health, "One has a heart condition and one is severely diabetic. They have to sit and wait for doctor's appointments."
He added that his wife picks up their two grandchildren off the bus. "My granddaughter just started school this year and my wife has been late a few times to get to the bus. The other bus that used to come to our neighborhood and drop the kids off now has to stop by the board office. Kids have to walk from there or parents have to go out and walk them home."
"It's just so unbearable anymore," Brooklyn resident Ralph Smith said of the situation. "Just like this morning. We had our granddaughter stay overnight, and you don't know whether to leave a half hour early to an hour early."
Smith's story was the same as Myers' in that the wait is sometimes 45 minutes at the train crossing. He said at one instance the engine of the train was above the former Viking Glass "and our crossing was still blocked." He added that his neighbor works at WalMart and sometimes has to leave an hour early for work.
Another area resident, Linda Yost-Stackpole, also expressed her concerns to the Chronicle. "There was an instance that we personally had an emergency that required getting to an emergency room," she said. "After waiting 25 minutes with no end in sight, I called the non-emergency police number and asked them to please call the train terminal here in Brooklyn and ask them to clear one of the crossings due to our emergency."
She added: "At first I was told they couldn't do anything. I advised them that we understood there to be a relationship between the railroad and the City of New Martinsville and that if an emergency existed they would move the train from one of the two crossings. With that said the railroad moved the train just enough so that my vehicle could cross and I could get to the hospital.
"I was told a mock emergency was performed at the sewage plant and was successful, however unless you live here and experience the daily waiting, being late for work, late for church, late to a doctor/dentist appointment, you cannot possibly understand the frustration that our neighborhood experiences!"
Melanie Cost of CSX's Corporate Communications had the following response on behalf of CSX: "As we have previously stated publicly, CSX is in contact with emergency responders and state legislators regarding the issue that developed because of the closed highway bridge in New Martinsville. Consistent with CSX's efforts to cooperate with the communities in which it operates, the company will coordinate with local officials should an emergency arise. CSX continues to work hard to fulfill its obligations to customers in the New Martinsville area and in communities across its 23-state, 21,000 route-mile rail network."
Stackpole suggested an action plan should different emergencies occur or a town meeting that involves everyone in the area would be a start "to better communication and understanding." She added that repairing and or replacing the bridge should be of utmost importance to the city. "We would like to see action and better communication from our commissioners," she added.
In a statement to the Chronicle on behalf of the commissioners, Lemon sympathized with New Martinsville's residents but emphasized that the commission does not have an answer since the project is in the state's control: "We are trying to find ways to expedite this process and get it open as soon as possible. We just don't have an answer," he said.