WHEELING, W.Va. — Take note, all who cross the Wheeling Suspension Bridge on a regular basis: You may want to do some research on how heavy your vehicle is, as city police plan to step up enforcement of the historic span’s two-ton weight limit in the coming weeks.
Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said his department has started a two- to three-week educational campaign regarding the weight limit and the mandatory 50-foot intervals between vehicles crossing the bridge. He said the department plans to follow the informational campaign with a robust enforcement campaign.
Earlier this week, officers began randomly handing out pamphlets to drivers on the Wheeling Island side of the bridge. Schwertfeger said the gesture was very well-received by residents on the Island.
The West Virginia Division of Highways printed the pamphlets, but the city is paying officers overtime two or three days per week to hand them out. Schwertfeger said officers will work overtime to monitor the bridge more closely following the informational blitz.
“The WPD partnered with DOH to do everything we can to preserve the historic bridge in hopes of continuing to use it as an artery for emergency response and visibility. The historic value I believe speaks for itself. Shame on us if we don’t do everything we can in that regard,” he said.
Driver of vehicles weighing over the posted weight limit can be fined up to $1,600 and face impoundment of their vehicles.
Most popular models of sedan, and even some sport-utility vehicles, weigh less than two tons without occupants or baggage inside. However, many models cut it close, meaning a few passengers could put many vehicles over the limit.
A number of pickup trucks, including the three most-bought models in 2015, according to Kelley Blue Book – the Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado and Ford F-Series – exceed the limit even without passengers or cargo.
Schwertfeger said the catalyst for the campaign was a March 23 incident in which a Greyhound bus crossed the bridge, prompting DOH officials to shut down the bridge for several days for evaluation.
The bridge has a two-ton weight limit and an 8-foot height limit, while a typical Greyhound bus is 13-14 feet tall and weighs 24-27 tons.
Wheeling police cited the bus driver. Following the bus incident, Patrick Gurrera, DOH District 6 bridge engineer said their main concern was the integrity of the bridge cables.
The informational pamphlet officers are handing out provides some history of the bridge and explains that many of the structural elements such as the piers and the main suspension cables are believed to be the original components. The bridge has also been designated a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
The pamphlet also explains that because the bridge was built before the dawn of automobiles, the heaviest load expected to cross the structure was a horse and buggy. It points out that overweight loads can cause significant damage to the structure.