PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Traffic on the Memorial Bridge dropped an average of 5 percent in the three weeks following a Facebook post saying the bridge wasn’t safe, but the woman who made the claim will not face charges, Mayor Bob Newell said Monday.
That doesn’t mean the matter is finished though.
“She was posting information that was given to her,” Newell said. “The investigation’s ongoing” into the source of that information.
On Aug. 24, a Pomeroy, Ohio, resident wrote on her Facebook page that “the toll bridge going into Parkersburg did not pass inspection but the Mayor of Parkersburg re-opened (sic) it to traffic” and said the problem involved “the same faulty pin stress the Silver Bridge had when that span fell.” The post, which has since been taken down, was shared nearly 1,400 times.
Newell said the bridge did not fail an inspection and that a potential problem was ruled out by a second test.
City Engineer Justin Smith noted the local span is not the same type of construction as the infamous Silver Bridge that collapsed in 1967.
But in the three weeks following the post, bridge traffic was down an average of 550 cars a day from its usual rate of around 11,000, Newell said. Even now, approximately 220 fewer cars a day are crossing the bridge.
The standard bridge toll for a single vehicle is 50 cents, although some people buy multiple tickets at a discounted rate and multi-axle trucks pay more.
“It’s not about the income at all; it’s about putting fear into people for no reason,” Newell said.
At the mayor’s request, city police looked into the possibility of charges against the individual who made the post, Police Chief Joe Martin said. He said there are not a lot of statutes that deal with people posting their opinions on social media, unless it contributes to a panic.
“It was borderline (but) in my opinion it didn’t rise to that level,” Martin said.
Newell said he will ask Martin to file a complaint with Facebook.
“It’s still irresponsible” for the individual to have posted the statement, he said.
Engineering consultant HNTB inspected the bridge Aug. 7 while it was closed for maintenance. Ultrasonic test results indicated a possible internal flaw with one of the bridge pins.
A second test with a higher-resolution device was conducted Aug. 22, revealing no problems, Smith said in a previous interview.
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