Elkins Seeking Infrastructure Act Funds for Davis Avenue Bridge
The bridge carrying Davis Avenue across the Tygart Valley River is more than 70 years old. Recent inspections indicate that this bridge is in “poor” condition and will soon need repair or replacement, but there have been few options for securing the more than $4 million this would cost—until now. The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill includes funding for upgrading aging bridges, and City of Elkins officials are making the case to state decision makers that the Davis Avenue Bridge should be included on the list of approved projects.
Elkins Mayor Jerry Marco explains that the new law may enable Elkins to access federal bridge-repair funding that was not previously available to the city.
“The Davis Avenue Bridge is owned by the City of Elkins and isn’t on a state or federal route, so it is what the federal government calls ‘off-system,’” says Marco. “Traditionally, federal funds haven’t been available for off-system bridges. Even if we could have accessed that money, we would have needed to make a large local matching contribution of our own funds. That’s all been changed by the infrastructure act that just passed.”
In a departure from past federal practice, the new law authorizes federal funds to be used for repairing or replacing “off-system” bridges like the one on Davis Avenue. As an incentive for states to direct these funds to off-system bridges owned by a county, city, town or other local agency, there is also no local match requirement. FHA guidance indicates that this funding category can be used for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or rehabilitating such locally owned off-system bridges.
According to a press release from the Federal Highway Administration, West Virginia is slated to receive $101.3 million in Bridge Formula Program funding during fiscal year 2022 and a total of $506.7 million over the next five years, a portion of which may be used for off-system bridges. Elkins officials are monitoring news from Charleston about how these newly authorized federal funds will be apportioned among the 1,545 West Virginia bridges that, like the Davis Avenue Bridge, are currently rated in “poor” condition.
“We will be making our case to Charleston through official channels, but we will also be providing information to the public about how everyone can support this effort,” says Marco. “I ask that everyone keep an eye out for announcements as we learn more.”
As a first step in the process of drawing attention to the importance of this project, there will be a press conference at the Davis Avenue Bridge on Friday, February 11 at 3 p.m. The mayor and other elected officials, as well as city staff members, will be on hand to explain the bridge’s current condition and what repairs might be needed.
While the bridge needs repair or replacement in the next 5-10 years, the inspection reports that the city has received to date do not indicate any imminent risk of collapse or recommend immediate closure.
“When engineers say a bridge is in ‘poor’ condition, they are basically grading it a 4 on a scale that runs from zero to nine, so we’re right in the middle,” says Marco. “Obviously, there is room for a lot of improvement, but there is also no reason to panic about this bridge’s condition. If inspections had found that it was dangerous to continue using this bridge, we would have closed it already.”
City officials are making it a high priority to reach out to and educate state decision makers about the importance of this project to Elkins and Randolph County.
“We are really hoping that Elkins will be able to access Bridge Formula Program funds to repair or replace the Davis Avenue bridge, and we will do everything we can to make that happen,” says Marco. “Doing this work ourselves would be extremely expensive for Elkins residents, but being able to access these federal funds would enable us to keep this important route open through our downtown without impacting the many other services our community depends on.”
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