Memorial Bridge Tolls

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Some history and some perspective




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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  • by Greg Location: Friendly on May 3, 2010 at 08:30 PM
    If we had a bridge in Tyler County, the only county bordering the Ohio River that doesn't have a bridge, our local hospital would certainly fare better, as well as our downtown businesses-what's left of them, anyway. To get to New Matamoras, which I can see across the river from my house, I have to drive down to St. Mary's (preferable to going to New Martinsville), then go back up the river. Or I can use a part-time ferry. I wouldn't mind paying a reasonable toll for better access to Ohio.
  • by KAA Location: Belpre on Feb 27, 2010 at 07:19 AM
    I would like to see the money from the toll go to keep the up keep on the bridge. And for the salary of the workers..Instead of of on the W Va. roads that should come from other sources...
  • by Carolyn Location: Belpre Oh on Feb 25, 2010 at 03:13 PM
    I object to the city using toll monies for street repair. Those funds should be in a bridge maintenance only fund.
  • by Blair Location: Vienna on Feb 12, 2010 at 07:23 PM
    I would have offered to take the toll off from 11:30pm until 4:30am. (Or perhaps a sliding scale depending on when you use it) Those few that are using it at that hour are hardworking service industry workers. They get paid very little over minimum. Also, perhaps leaving it open on Sundays, maybe not each and every single sunday, but some. Take a little burden while raising the toll. Help some, those that use the toll bridge to go to church or come to the area to shop. That would be a good way to take just some of the edge off the increase. I agree Roger that it probably needed the increase, but the way they handle it left a lot to be desired. It is better to tell 100% of the truth (like where some of the bridge money went, what it paved, how it was used) than to run and hide from the truth. What Sharyn Tallman wanted from the increase was not unreasonable. Sad that she got slap chopped by the mayor and the paper.
  • by Anonymous Location: Belpre on Feb 10, 2010 at 04:46 PM
    As a Belpre resident, the increased toll to go across the bridge has affected me significantly. I refuse to pay the new toll to go across the Memorial Bridge when I have the option of going across the Belpre Bridge, which doesn’t require a toll. I have to make trips to Parkersburg several times a week, and some people I know have to make the trip every day. Many Belpre residents work in Parkersburg, and having to pay the increased toll twice a day will quickly become a financial burden. Although taking the Belpre Bridge instead of the Memorial Bridge can take some travelers longer to get to work, I fully believe that it will be the most beneficial. The money that people will be spending to cross the Memorial Bridge could be used for gas or other financial needs.
  • by ViennaGuy Location: Vienna on Feb 7, 2010 at 12:25 PM
    Roger, another excellent commentary. If I may, I'd like to add one thing. When the times comes for the toll bridge to be closed and demolished, how many people will be complaining about the backup of traffic through downtown when everyone has to use the Parkersburg-Belpre bridge? People complain about the toll cost now ... they're *really* be complaining about the lack of a second bridge when it takes them 15-20 minutes or more just to get through downtown in the mornings. Maybe then the complainers won't think that the 15 cent toll increase wasn't so bad!
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