FAIRMONT — Fairmont City Council is taking the first steps toward reopening the Everest Drive bridge in downtown.

Tuesday night, council unanimously approved an agreement between the city and the West Virginia Department of Transportation to assess the work needed to reopen the bridge that has been closed to traffic since November 2022.

The city applied to the state’s program of infrastructure work projects that are being funded by the major infrastructure bill Congress passed in November 2021. Once the agreement is signed, the state Division of Highways will inspect the bridge and assess if the work needed is a repair or if an entire replacement is necessary.

“We didn’t expect that we’d be awarded this from the state. The state department is actually utilizing federal funds from the Infrastructure and Investment Act,” Fairmont City Manager Valerie Means said. “Once I can sign the agreement, the state will work with us and will do the study to see whether or not it will need a repair or a possible replacement.”

The Fourth Street bridge — which is now the Third Street Bridge — went through a similar process to be replaced and also used state assistance to replace city infrastructure.

In November, the city rushed to shut down the bridge to road traffic after a rainstorm opened a major pothole on the bridge so deep the ravine below was visible through the exposed rebar spanning the hole.

Prior to the closure, the city and council had discussed conducting a structural integrity study and a scope of work assessment on the bridge and requested bids on the work, but nothing came from the process.

The bridge was last inspected in 2019 and the report showed a bad prognosis for the structure with the inspector writing that “this structure is in poor condition” and “long term bridge replacement should be scheduled.”

Specifically, the report points out eight areas where the bridge has significant deficiencies. Most notably are heavy rust and loss in the bridge’s spans, and the concrete deck is “heavily deteriorated.”

Council also unanimously approved exploring the next phase of the Locust Avenue sidewalk project. The current project added a curbed sidewalk along Locust Avenue in the Edgemont neighborhood between Fleming Avenue and McLane Drive.

The next stretch of sidewalk proposed would run between Broadview Avenue, where the current project ends, to Bell Run Road, ending just before the WVU Medicine Fairmont Medical Center campus.

“We want to continue and make this a continuous thoroughfare for alternate modes of transportation so we can have walkers safely navigate that stretch of road,” Means said. “Eventually my dream would be to have a full sidewalk along Locust Avenue and eventually Country Club [Road].”

Prior to the council’s official meeting, members met for a work session update on the city’s abandoned building demolition program. The city has aggressively ramped up its efforts to raze blighted structures.

When the demolition program got off the ground in 2018, the city demolished 12 structures that year. That has slowly increased the last several years, with fiscal year 2021-22 coming in at 24 demolitions and fiscal year 2022-23 sitting at 36 so far with several demolitions still pending.

When elected mayor by her fellow council members, Anne Bolyard said she planned to keep demolitions a priority.

“This is that continuation and that promise to make this a priority,” Bolyard said. “The next step is having a plan in place to return these [properties] to the tax rolls, putting new homes on these, improving the safety of our neighborhoods and providing housing for new citizens.”

A full plan regarding the process of returning the demolished properties to the community and developers will be discussed at a later meeting.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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