An open letter to Governor Justice
By Rocky Osborne, Clay County
On April 11, 2003 I received a letter from Fred VanKirk, Secretary / Highways Commissioner, West Virginia Department of Transportation.
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Osborne:
Governor Bob Wise has forwarded your letter, concerning the Elkhurst Swinging Bridge in Clay County, to the Division of Highways for response.
The condition of the existing bridge, along with its unique design, is beyond any repair by the Division of Highways that would ensure the safety of the traveling public. Therefore, this bridge cannot be reopened. A new, single-lane bridge at this location would cost $2.5 million. At this time the Division does not have the necessary funding to build a new bridge; however, this location WILL BE PLACED ON THE BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION LIST and will be considered, along with all other locations for bridge construction, AS FUNDING BECOMES AVAILABLE.
We are pursuing improvements to this area. THE OLD RAILROAD GRADE EASTWARD TO COUNTY ROUTE 16/25 IS BEING IMPROVED TO PROVIDED ACCESS TO WV 16 AT HARTLAND. Also, the existing County Route 22, which provides access to this area, will be reviewed for needed maintenance.……”
Bob Wise Gave. The residents of Elkhurst have enjoyed a paved road with guard rails along the river for the past 20 years.
On December 21, 2023 I wrote a letter to Governor Jim Justice and Speaker Roger Hanshaw since both were involved in a very public way in establishing the “Rails to Trails Park” along the OLD RAILROAD GRADE in question. It says in part:
“I want to make you aware of the status of the road leading to Elkhurst in light of a recent incident. (Wherein I discussed an individual who needed to go to the hospital but had to drive himself due to the condition of the road.) The road to Elkhurst from Hartland is over the old C&O rail bed. It has deteriorated badly of late. It was paved by the DOH in 2003 as an alternative to replacing the old Elkhurst Bridge (documentation attached). Guard rails were added and the State continued to maintain this right of way until earlier this year. A dispute arose, I have been told, when the Rails to Trails claimed it had jurisdiction over this section and would not agree to the DOH to continue maintain this road despite it being in continual use for the last 20 years. The residents of Elkhurst and surrounding area are not opposed to the trail, but the trail and the residents could share this section of road for the benefit of all. ……” I went on to ask both of them to look into a compromise which would allow the residents the continued benefit of this their ONLY VIABLE access.
Governor Justice and Speaker Hanshaw’s response you ask? SILENCE
Two weeks later I emailed both to follow up. Their response? SILENCE
SILENCE is an infuriating response. SILENCE says I have something to hide. SILENCE says I don’t care about this issue. SILENCE says shut up and go away.
A bill is making it’s way through the West Virginia legislature making it easier for the State to acquire abandoned railroad beds for hiking and biking trails. I wonder…?
Another thing I wonder about is, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE COMMITMENT FROM THE DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS TO:
- MAINTAIN THE RAILBED AND
- TO BUILD US A NEW BRIDGE.
In another letter dated June 9, 2003 from the House of Delegates, West Virginia Legislature to The Honorable Bob Wise. It says in part:
“We, the undersigned, respectfully request that funding be made available for the repair and maintenance of the cable suspension bridge at Elkhurst, in Clay County…
During the winter months the road over Beechy Ridge is almost impassable at times. Children cannot get to school and people cannot get to work….
It was signed by:
William Stemple, Delegate 33rd District, David Perry, Delegate 29th District
John Pino, Delegate 29th District, Shirley Love, Senator 11th District
Randy White, Senator 11th District
Though their recommendations were not followed, they at least attempted to address their constituent’s concerns. This is how government is supposed to work.
Jim Justice took away.
So, Governor Jim Justice through inaction and perhaps directly allowed the only reliable and safe access to Elkhurst to fall into such a dilapidated state as to be almost unusable. Speaker Roger Hanshaw through his inaction shares in this travesty of injustice to his constituents.
This past summer local citizens led by Mike Schoonover filled the many potholes with whatever they could find. Alas, it has all disintegrated. My fear is that the next move will be to completely close this vital link to vehicle traffic, thereby trapping the poor folks in Elkhurst.