Belmont County Bridges Are Unsafe, But Adding A Fee Enrages Some - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Belmont County Bridges Are Safety Issue, But Adding A Fee Enrages People

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It's a story that has a safety impact on anyone driving in Belmont County.

Officials are suggesting a $10 annual license plate fee to help repair the county's ailing bridges.

But when they made that suggestion in a public meeting, it turned into a red hot debate.

"It looks like Belmont County has the measles," noted Belmont County Engineer Fred Bennett.

He was not referring to a health crisis, but to a map, with red dots indicating every bridge with a decreased weight limit, and every bridge that's been closed due to structural deficiencies.

Bennett says it's a crisis, and they don't have the money or the manpower to fix it.

So he's asking for a $10 a year license plate fee.

"That's 83 cents a month, and it breaks down to about three cents a day," Bennett explained.

Deputy Engineer Mike Wahl says an elderly woman told him she may freeze to death next winter because the bridge near her home can't support the weight of the truck that delivers her heating oil.

And Wahl says his worst fear is that a school bus will plunge through a bridge.

"I'm telling you that if there are people in this county near and dear to your heart, for safety sake alone, we need to do something with these bridges and we need to do it quickly," Wahl noted.

The license fee suggestion set off a firestorm of controversy in the otherwise quiet county commission meeting.

One man said senior citizens are already unable to make ends meet.

He said his wife recently had to cancel her asthma prescription because they can't afford it.

But others said it's a small price to pay to prevent tragedy on an unsafe bridge.

"We're looking at a safety factor here and $10 is not a lot of money," said Frank Shaffer, a Pultney Township trustee.

One man suggested hitting up the gas and oil drillers for some funding.

"It's a sad situation," said Frank Papino of Belmont County. "They're doing the majority of the damage to our roads, and I don't think they're pulling their fair share."

Commissioner Matt Coffland said he has toured the county's bridges, and he confirmed they are in terrible shape.

"I don't know what the answer is," said Coffland. "But I can tell you if we do not do something soon, a lot of our paved roads are going back to gravel roads."

At times, voice were raised and gavels were banged.

In the end, commissioners took the suggestion under advisement.