WHEELING – There have been plans for more than a year to temporarily close the Elm Grove Stone Arch Bridge – West Virginia’s oldest in existence – for necessary repairs. Yet that closure date keeps moving further into the future. There still isn’t one officially set.
The delay, a Division of Highways official says, is due to continuing discussions between the state and a business near the bridge. That business says there are other ways to access the area the DOH needs to start the project other than a chunk of its parking lot.
Meanwhile, the DOH has filed a petition for an eminent domain proceeding in order to gain access to a piece of property it says it needs to start the project, though a start date won’t come until 2023.
Tony Clark, West Virginia DOH District 6 engineer, said the bridge project is being delayed until next year because there is not enough time to get it done before wintertime.
He noted there is a right of way issue with Elm Grove Pharmacy, which sits on Bethlehem Boulevard in Elm Grove. Clark said the DOH needs access to part of the business’ parking lot in order to begin work.
The project was slated to begin June 2021, but first delayed because of the ongoing I-70 Bridges Project and its related road closures and detours. Earlier this year, Clark mentioned a possible closure as early as April. Now, not getting all the necessary easements is causing another delay.
“There’s not enough time to get that done, for them to get the work done before this winter,” Clark said of the bridge rehabilitation.
Clark noted the court proceedings related to the eminent domain petition also have taken longer than anticipated.
“What we need is between their parking lot and the bridge. It’s a small chunk of their parking lot,” Clark said of Elm Grove Pharmacy.
Joe John, an attorney representing the pharmacy owned by pharmacist Anthony Martino, said the DOH filed a petition for an eminent domain condemnation proceeding in Ohio County Circuit Court. He noted hearings have already been held on the matter and the pharmacy is awaiting a ruling. The pharmacy property is listed as owned by Emvary Properties LLC, which is owned by Martino.
“The pharmacy is simply exercising its Constitutional rights to protect its property,” John said. “He’s protecting his rights to his property. He doesn’t believe it’s necessary,” he added of the DOH’s easement request.
John added the pharmacy wants to make sure the DOH is following the law, and that it should not blame the pharmacy for any delays to the Stone Bridge project.
Martino could not be reached for additional comment Friday.
According to a copy of the petition for condemnation filed in Ohio County Circuit Court, the property where the easement is located consists of 0.028 acres of land. The state contends the property is needed to move forward with the bridge project. However, in its response, the company says the DOH has other options.
The company asserts the DOH has three or possibly four other ways to access the bridge.
“Petitioner threatened condemnation when respondent would not agree to the petitioner’s ridiculously low offer to take and use the respondent’s property for over a year when respondent has very limited and restricted property and the petitioner was well aware of the situation,” according to a copy of the company’s response.
Clark said the Stone Bridge is inspected annually. While the deck replacement portion of the project has been delayed for the past year, some work already has been done underneath. He is not concerned it will deteriorate to the point of needing to be closed between now and whenever the contract is permitted to get started.
“I may be wrong, but I doubt a yearish delay will cause any issues,” he said. “The contractor is still under contract to do the work. … I don’t have any concerns the bridge will have to be closed” prior to the work starting.
Clearwater Construction of Mercer, Pennsylvania, was hired by the state to do the Stone Bridge job. Built in 1817 by pioneer Col. Moses Shepherd as part of the National Road, the Stone Bridge, also known as Monument Place Bridge, is the oldest bridge in the state of West Virginia.
The Stone Bridge, which spans Little Wheeling Creek, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 21, 1981. Concrete sidewalks were added to it in 1931. In 1958, a concrete veneer was added to the structure. Since then, parts of the veneer have fallen off, revealing the stone masonry underneath.