By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, W.Va. – The City of Welch has kicked off a new campaign to garner support behind their proposed McDowell Street Bridge project that would alleviate consistent traffic accidents and flooding and the interruption in traffic flow created by these incidents.
At a public meeting held Tuesday evening, Mayor Harold McBride shared updates on the project’s progress and what steps would be taken moving forward.
“We’ve presented this to the State and they have actually hired an engineering company to survey the project and they are about three quarters of the way through the survey,” said McBride. “That is a great milestone in and of itself, but it’s still an uphill battle and it’s going to be a tough one.”
“Once the engineering company is through and say it is feasible, then it is up to us to convince the State to do this thing. That’s going to be the roughest part,” continued McBride.
In order to leverage the project with the State Government, the City of Welch is kicking off a new campaign called “Build the Bridge.”
“We need as many signatures as we can get, just piles of them,” said McBride. “Once the engineers say it is good, I’ll take the signatures and everything else to meet with the Governor and try to convince him. I’ve talked with him several times and he’s favorable of the project.”
As part of the campaign, McBride said residents will soon see signs going up around Welch urging citizens to support the Build the Bridge campaign.
“You don’t have to live in Welch, you don’t even have to live in McDowell County to support us,” said McBride.
Mark Simpson, CEO of Welch Community Hospital, spoke at the meeting in favor of the bridge.
“During these years, I’ve seen the underpass blocked by flooding and tall vehicles clashing into the train trestle above. Many times when these events happen, traffic to the hospital from the largest area of McDowell County was halted,” said Simpson.
“When these things happen, the severely sick and those suffering from trauma related injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, ATV crashes, mining accidents, and logging injuries to name a few, the care for these people is delayed,” continued Simpson.
Citing renowned Dr. R. Adams Cowley’s “Golden Hour,” which states that the first hour after injury will largely determine chances of survival for critically injured patients chances for survival, Simpson stressed the critical need for a solution.
“We know that for many places in McDowell County, that hour is already stretched to the limit by geographic hurdles. Therefore, we must not and cannot allow any fixable form of obstruction to hinder the safety and wellbeing of the residents of McDowell County,” said Simpson.
“With that being said, how can we turn a blind eye to this any longer? Let’s build the bridge,” continued Simpson.
Mayor McBride shared his experience with the last flood to block the underpasses in Welch.
“The last flood we had, I was down there that night and we were taking nurses down the railroad tracks trying to get them to the hospital. We had an ambulance that couldn’t go anywhere. At that time, Hobart Street was blocked and the underpass at Coney Island was blocked, and there was a slide on Route 52. We were in a fishbowl,” said McBride.
“There was no way if someone got hurt that they were going to get to the hospital. This has been going on for 50 years but hopefully because of all of us sitting here, 50 years from now this will not be an issue,” continued McBride.
A common response to the issue is that the underpass has always been an issue, but McBride argued that isn’t actually the case.
“I say back up, the underpass only flooded back in the day during huge floods. We don’t dredge out streams anymore, rivers are up close to the road everywhere we look and if it rains hard, we flood. It’s a big difference now compared to how it once was,” said McBride. “Not only that, at one time we had a road going overtop the train tracks. The railroad would send employees out to watch for trains and help people cross safely. We don’t have that anymore. It’s a totally different situation then how it’s always been.”
McBride is also looking at the expenses created by the numerous accidents, from commercial vehicles to school buses that have been lost to the trestle.
“When Tug River Healthcare wrecked their truck, it slid off the bumper placed by the railroad and hit the fence. One of the posts from the fence came within inches of the driver’s head. Sooner or later, someone will die in that underpass,” said McBride.
“Another problem is tractor trailers passing through and they see the sign says 12 ft of clearance, but every tractor trailer is 13 and a half feet tall. If you get one heading towards the Federal Prison, he’ll stop. You can tell him he’ll make it but I’ve had to prove to them it’s true. If you turn around, you are 4 hours from the Federal Prison by the time you go back to Bluefield, to Beckley and back down Route 16. We all deserve better,” said McBride.
Local resident Troy Hawks asked the Mayor what would happen to the 4 houses near the underpass if the project were to move forward.
“I’m sure the State would buy them out. They are going to find out who owns property around every inch of the trestle and like anywhere else, if they start to build they will buy the property and they are usually very generous,” said McBride. “Palmer Engineering is conducting the survey. They are starting to send out the land surveys so if you’re close to anywhere down there, you will be contacted by them and receive a form. I encourage you to fill out the form so they can determine property boundaries within the area.”
“What about Senator Manchin and the position of power he has right now. Are you all talking with him too,” asked Welch resident Michael Evans.
“I’ve talked to him and Shelley Moore Capito because our biggest obstacle in this project will be the railroad. They are the only people I know that can handle Norfolk Southern and they are on board,” said McBride.
Gene Vandevander asked to what extent traffic would be obstructed if they project were to come to fruition.
“I’m assuming we will probably have one lane open when they are building but I’m guessing. I’m sure they will keep traffic moving but I’m sure it will be held up some.”
Anyone wishing to help support the Build the Bridge campaign should contact the City of Welch at (304) 436-3113.