Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin

Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin listens to public comments during the Bluefield City Board meeting on Tuesday.

BLUEFIELD — Residents concerned about the recent closure of the Grant Street Bridge took their concerns Tuesday to the city board.

Of this, many local residents spoke before the board and were given responses by board members.

To begin the discussion, City Manager Dane Rideout explained that though the bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic, foot traffic is still being allowed. As for a projected reopening date, Rideout was unsure.

“I don’t have a timeline for you,” Rideout said, “This is an un-forecasted budget expense.”

One of the biggest concerns of residents in Bluefield’s North Side and East End are that the bridge closure will lengthen emergency response time. In response to this, Rideout explained that Bluefield’s fire and police departments follow the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) response time standards. These standards require that fire departments must have an 80 second response time, this being the time that they prepare to leave the station, and a 480 second response time to the scene.

To ensure that fire, EMS, and police meet this response standard with the increased area of travel, the city ran mock runs. “We ran multiple runs during multiple times of the day. Two minutes and 42 seconds was what that increased to,” Rideout said. Previously the response time was, “One minute 44 seconds,” Rideout said, now it’s, “Four minutes and 26 seconds now without the bridge.” According to Rideout, this is still well within the required standard.

To aid in this issue further, the city has negotiated a contract with the railroad for access to one of their service roads, according to Rideout. This road, being on railroad property, was not previously accessible. With this new contract the road, below Harding Street, will add in quick response time. “It’s going to be quite some time before we get this bridge fixed,” Rideout said.

Now that more traffic than usual will be along the side roads, such as Harding Street, residents such as Willie Hunt, are concerned for safety. These roads, being thin and curvy, make travel difficult. In an effort to inform drivers unfamiliar with the area, Hunt suggested that the city post signs about the reported sharp turn as well as installing speed bumps. Aside from the road being difficult to drive, frequent travelers are dangerously speeding according to Hunt.

In response to this, Rideout informed that speed bumps were absolutely something that the city could install. To aid in safety in the Harding Street curve, the city has been looking into installing a fisheye mirror, according to Rideout.

Hunt also raised the question of whether or not residents would be permitted to park their vehicles on the sidewalks to alleviate congestion. During the rebuilding of the Martin Luther King Jr. bridge residents were permitted to do so according to Hunt but since then they have been issued tickets. Also in the question of sidewalks, resident Rachel King Rozzel asked whether or not the city would repair the sidewalk in front of her home. According to Rideout, though the city put in the sidewalks, the homeowner is the owner of the sidewalk. If the homeowner does not upkeep the sidewalk, “You are reliable for that,” Rideout said.

To this, Mayor Ron Martin asked, “If they own the sidewalks why can’t they park there?” Rideout and other board members said they were unsure and would need to consult a lawyer.

In reference to the bridge’s condition, former Bluefield resident, Ted Curtis, said, “In 2017 we did a study and noticed that the bridge is really unsafe. It didn’t just become an issue.” According to Martin, the closure was just as much of a surprise to him and the board as it was to the residents. According to Rideout, “We knew the bridge was in bad shape but we had to pay off the loan of the last bridge.”

Curtis also thanked the board that the bridge was closed as he stated that he and others, “Don’t want our kids going across a raggedy bridge.” His other concern he brought before the board was whether or not the Bluefield Area Transit was still running in the area across the bridge. According to Rideout, “Yes and no.” As BAT is a federal organization, the BAT organization has deemed that there is not enough need in this area for a dedicated route, however, residents can call and requested to be picked up, and a bus will do so, according to Rideout.

According to resident Danny Wright, the area across the bridge is full of senior citizens. Wright, a veteran, is also anxious about the plethora of veterans and elderly that live in the area. “The video doesn’t match the audio.” Wright is concerned with the unkept foliage around the roadways as well as the many elderly residents that live across the bridge. “It sounds like an inconvenience but when you pick up the phone to call EMS it’s a life and death situation.”

Resident, Delores French, said she believes one of the main reason that the bridge is in such disrepair is heavy equipment being driven across it for so many years. “If you check that weight limit I’m sure we have been over the weight limit many times,” French said. French also stated that she believes if the bridge is perfectly repaired or replaced that it will fall into poor condition again if the large trucks and equipment continue over it.

In an effort to get the railroad on the move in cases such as the Princeton Avenue road issue, as well as involvement with the bridge closure, Rideout encouraged those concerned to attend the Town Hall meeting on June 13 at Bluefield State College at noon and voice their concerns to Governor Jim Justice. Justice will be in attendance during this meeting, according to Rideout.

During the meeting, the board also approved a resolution to oppose the increase of weight and lengths of commercial trucks. According to Rideout large delivery companies are considering larger trucks. Not only does the board think this is a bad idea but they also think it is a large reason as to why 5,288 of West Virginia’s bridges were labeled as being in fair/poor condition last year.

— Contact Emily D. Coppola at ecoppola@bdtonline.com