MORGANTOWN — When Brian Sherry lived in South Park, he’d look over from the Pleasant Street Bridge and joke that the Walnut Street Bridge is so ugly that it’s intentionally kept in the dark.
Then he moved to Greenmont, and traversing that stark, barely lit span became a regular part of his family’s downtown experience.
Not so funny.
So, he spent seven months or so trying to get the answer to a single question — whose job is it to replace the lights on the Walnut Street Bridge?
The responses shed some light on why the bridge has been so dark for so long.
Representatives of the West Virginia Division of Highways say it’s the city’s job, and they have the agreement to prove it.
An official with the city of Morgantown says he can find no evidence the city has ever maintained those lights and has no knowledge of any such agreement.
“I’ve asked them, ‘Hey, if it’s our responsibility, please provide me the agreement and I’d be happy to do it.’ But I need to see it because I’ve looked through our records and I cannot find where we signed any agreement saying those lights were our responsibility,” Engineering and Public Works Director Damien Davis said.
While the state isn’t typically keen on the city getting involved with state routes, lighting is a notable exception — but it’s a very mixed bag.
In some areas, the city is responsible for providing electricity and performing maintenance. In other areas that scenario is reversed. Or it could even come down to what specific part of the light needs attention — for example, the head and bulb are the city’s, whereas the state is responsible for the pole and wiring.
But in all those scenarios, Davis explained, the city has an agreement on file providing those details.
That said, he admits the city pays the electricity for the lights on the Walnut Street Bridge, meaning there has to be some sort of arrangement.
“I’m not saying there isn’t an agreement, but I’ve asked them for it, and they haven’t given it to me,” he said.
“We want to work with the DOH. We’re trying to work with them on other things. We know they’re short on manpower. We know District 4 is down a bunch of people and struggling for manpower, but the state has a $2 billion surplus right now. We’re willing to do the work, but we don’t want to subsidize the state.”
As for Sherry and his Greenmont neighbors, being able to see is far more important than who screws in the lightbulbs.
“It has to be somebody’s responsibility. Everybody is acting like the problem can’t be solved or it’s nobody’s jurisdiction,” he said. “We just want some light on the bridge.”