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Steve Novotney Says, "It's a Mystery"

We don't know. Our elected representatives don't know. Not Dels. Storch, Fluharty, or Canestraro, or Sens. Ihlenfeld, Maroney, or Clements.

Shoot, employees of the state's Division of Highways don't even know.

What we do know, though, is that this apparent albatross around Gov. Jim Justice's neck is OUR elephant in the room because we can see the decay beneath Interstate 70. We live under here where the crumbling concrete pelts our sidewalks and our city streets and we're told to feel lucky no one was injured or killed by the falling debris.

The citizens in the northern panhandle have followed this issue very closely since nearly 80 percent of us voted in favor of the governor's road bond initiative in 2017. Initially, we were told by him that repairing or replacing the 25 bridges and ramps along this 14.5-mile stretch of federal interstate would be the "centerpiece" of success, but while many other projects on the list have moved forward, the Ohio County promise sits silent.

Originally scheduled to begin LAST YEAR, Gov. Justice delayed it by more than a full calendar when he trashed all three bids entered by qualified contractors because those price tags were for about $100 million than the DOH initial estimate of $172 million. At that time, we were told a re-examination would take place to help lower the costs, and we were told that some items on the "To Do" list would be omitted for the same purpose.

According to Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld (D-1st), Tom Smith, the commissioner of the state's Department of Transportation, reported to him the target price is $200 million or less. During that same conversation, Ihlenfeld relayed, no specific information was delivered except for, "We are moving forward with the project."

No when. No how. No breakdown. No sense of urgency.

It's no wonder that, after the governor good-ol'-boy bragged about the "Roads to Prosperity" program during the annual State of the State Address, many of us were purely disgusted. Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-3rd), in fact, communicated the collective disappointment in a brief tweet:

"Jim touted his Roads to Prosperity as a success. That's laughable. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO THE NORTHERN PANHANDLE?!? It's catastrophic and we're putting lives at risk. Get with the program."

"Lives at risk." The lawmaker's words delivered one other nugget of news confirmed recently by Ohio County Sheriff Tom Howard on the Watchdog Network:

"We're past the point where it would be nice if the Division of Highways would fix up Interstate 70," he said, "Instead, we're at the point where if something isn't done in the immediate future, someone could get badly hurt."

Interstate 70, to Wheeling residents anyway, is sort of our "Main Street" because the highway splits the municipality, and because of the ease it takes to travel from the Wheeling Island to Elm Grove with exits for Fulton, Woodsdale, Pleasanton, Clator, and Morningside along the way. That is why when Wheeling's mayor, Glenn Elliott, sent a stern message in Gov. Justice's direction last week – "Get the I-70 corridor fixed as promised" – it not only was appropriate but also the exact message every resident wishes for the governor to hear very loudly and very clearly.

Why?

Because we all know what rebar is, and because we all see it as motorists and passengers all along Interstate 70, and we know that's not normal. Those reinforcing bars hold the roadway's concrete, and when we can see it, we're well aware it means there's only half left.

Oh, and while no one wants to even utter the term, "collapse," we don't want to die just yet either.