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City closes West End tunnel after finding graffiti, needles

January 18, 2019

HUNTINGTON — The fate of the 5th Street West pedestrian underpass in Huntington is now sealed — or caged off, to be more accurate.

Safety concerns led city officials to permanently close the tunnel this week after trash, syringes and graffiti began to pile up there. City crews built a closed-in fence around the tunnel’s north side entrance and will build a similar fence around the south side entrance before the weekend.

The tunnel had been targeted for closure in 2017, but that was delayed after a group of volunteers cleared out trash and repainted the walls. City Communications Director Bryan Chambers said trash, needles and vandalism have returned in the months following the volunteers’ efforts.

“I want to make sure we thank people who made efforts 18 months ago to clean this and paint the walls,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, it’s a problem that has continued to persist, and it’s always going back to the same problems. We have a great volunteer community, but with this case, it is a public safety issue for us.”

The tunnel was built in 1938 for workers at manufacturing facilities on the West End, particularly employees at Owens-Illinois Glass Co. Workers lived and parked on the north side of the tunnel and would cross under the railroad tracks to get to work.

Use of the tunnel declined after those manufacturing facilities closed down, including the glass bottling plant in the early 1990s. Chambers said the city’s research into the tunnel showed it was seldom used.

“We felt the risks outweighed the benefits of keeping it open,” he said.

Concerned residents came to Mayor Steve Williams this week and spoke about safety hazards in the tunnel The tunnel is not lit after dark and was frequently littered with needles.

Williams and the residents both agreed closing the tunnel is necessary, Chambers said.

Chambers and members of the city’s Public Works Department inspected the tunnel Monday, finding extensive graffiti and trash. A steel grate covering a drainage pipe at the end of one side of the tunnel had been removed and thrown off to the side.

Chambers said the fencing is costing the city $5,500.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.