Swinging Bridge Q&A with Mayor Broughton

Q: Does the city have $2 million it “doesn’t know what to do with?”

A: I wish! Because of careful spending, we do have $2 million left from the $37 million in loans for the water plant project. That $2 million would increase our General Fund budget by about a third—if we were allowed to use it that way. But state law says we’re only allowed to use it for the water system. One thing we for sure can’t use it for is the swinging bridge. 

Instead, we are asking USDA to let us use that money to replace our water meters and do some other really important water projects. If we gave the money back to the lender, all it would do is move our final loan payment up a few years from 2055. It wouldn’t reduce our payments or our water rates. And then to do these new projects, we’d need a new loan, and we’d have to raise water rates again. So it’s really a win-win if we can use this money for these projects.

Q: Why did the city close the swinging bridge in 2016?

A: A civil engineer inspected the bridge. He told us the bridge didn’t meet current safety standards. It’s not stable enough, it’s not wide enough, and the rails don’t keep people safe enough from falling. He also said the support cables were too weak anymore because they were rusted. After you get a letter like that, how can you let people keep using the bridge? What if something happened? What if a child got hurt?

Q: How could the city close the swinging bridge if it doesn’t own it?

A: That’s easy. Whether we own something or not, it’s a matter of keeping the public safe. Just because we demolish an unsafe house doesn’t mean we own it, either. Once the engineer told us the bridge was unsafe, we couldn’t take the risk of letting people keep using it, so we had to close it. That was an easy call.

Q: Why did the city turn down the 2014 grant to replace the swinging bridge?

A: Even with the grant, the city would have paid $110,000 for the new bridge, plus we would have had to pay for demolishing the old one. People need to remember how tight our budget was back then. We had police leaving the department because of low pay—heck, the whole Street Department paving budget was only about $100,000 back then. What would people have said if we decided not to pave the streets that year so we could build a new pedestrian bridge? It was a tough decision, but the council talked about it and said we just didn’t have that much money for the bridge back then.

Q: If the city can’t afford to replace the swinging bridge, how could it afford the new bike bridge over North Randolph/U.S. 219?

A: The Elkins Rail Trail Connector bridge was built by the Randolph County Development Authority with grant and other funds received from the West Virginia Division of Highways. I’m really glad that it was built, but the city didn’t spend a single dollar on it. We could never have afforded a project like that.

Q: What’s next for the swinging bridge?

A: Replacing the bridge was going to be at least half a million dollars in 2014. Now, it’s going to be a lot more—maybe $750,000 or more. The Municipal Properties Committee announced it is going to research what could be done. We don’t know if there are still grants that could cover it. We don’t know how much our share would be. These questions are what the committee is starting to look into. People need to remember, even if we find the perfect grant to cover a new bridge, grant-funded projects like this take years. But I can’t even promise that will happen. We just don’t know what the possibilities are yet.

Q: How can people find out more or share ideas or concerns?

A: My door is always open, or people can call the mayor’s office at: 304-636-1414, ext. 1110.

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