There's been a lot of discussion lately about the increase in tolls on the Memorial Bridge that links Belpre and Parkersburg.
I thought it might be a good idea to get some basic facts out there for consideration. Some you may know. Some you may not.
When the bridge was built in the 1950s, it was planned to be one of TWO twin spans, carrying U.S. Route 50 traffic to the proposed bypass through North Parkersburg. But that plan was scuttled and the second span was never built.
The cost of building the bridge was borne by bond holders who would be repaid over a number of years.
Tolls that were collected for more than 40 years mostly went to pay the interest. Finally, in 2000, the bridge was paid off.
The question then arose: What to do with it? If the state of West Virginia had taken it over, there's no telling if the state would have spent the money to maintain it. There's a bridge in Wheeling that crosses the Ohio River that the state took over…and closed.
It was decided that Parkersburg would take ownership. In order to keep the bridge's upkeep from being a burden to the community, the tolls were left in place to cover those costs and to put into a fund to eventually pay for the bridge to be taken down. Any excess money could be used to pave major thoroughfares in the city. In the past few years, more than a million dollars of bridge revenue was used for those paving projects.
The cost of maintaining the bridge has risen significantly. Under the toll structure that had been in place since 1974, not enough money was being raised to do proper maintenance. So what could the city do?
Again, the city could close the bridge, even though it would be hard-pressed to find a way to tear down the un-used bridge since there's not yet not enough money in the demolition fund.
Or the city could raise tolls.
No one likes to see the price of anything go up. But if you consider that most people who use the bridge do so on a regular basis and have mostly paid 25-cent per crossing fee for more than 35 years, the new fee for those regular users only goes to 40 cents per crossing. That's an additional 15 cents per trip. If those regular users cross the bridge twice each day, every weekday of the year, that means they will pay an additional 75 dollars per year.
Admittedly, everyone would rather use that 75 dollars for something else.
But the bridge probably saves those regular users many times that amount in gasoline and extra miles of wear and tear on vehicles that they'd have to pay if they used other bridges, particularly if you compare 1974 gasoline prices with today's.
Should the city have taken over the bridge in the first place? Maybe not. But that's no longer the issue. That's water under the bridge, so to speak.
If you drive the Memorial Bridge, enjoy it while you can. There's no telling how long the City will be able to afford to keep it up in a manner that meets federal guidelines for safety. And when the day comes that it closes, don't look for it ever to be replaced.
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