Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The public has been hearing about the “latest plans” for the Highway 41 replacement bridge since 2003 – maybe even longer than that. But it was no secret back then that the bridge needed to be replaced.
Fast-forward 11 years and the latest plan is a fixed-span bridge of at least 55 feet, according to Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Paul Gawrych who has long fought for something more along the lines of 35 feet in height.
Since at least 1992, the Federal Highway Administration's National Bridge Inventory has recommended replacement of the 2,000-foot span, built in 1939.
The United States Coast Guard is recommending a bridge height of at least 55 feet, Gawrych said.
“I do not believe we have any other recourse; we have fought the good fight.”
A low-slung South Carolina Highway 41 drawbridge was planned over the Wando River instead of a 55-foot-tall fixed-span, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) said in August of 2010.
Construction was expected to begin in 2012.
At the first public information meeting in January 2005, the SCDOT presented a plan for a 45-foot-clearance fixed-span that nobody liked.
In May 2010, two alternatives were presented: a 55-foot fixed-span and a low-level bascule bridge, similar to the existing bridge. The bascule bridge was approved, but support faltered because of an added $10 million cost to build and maintain it.
In December of 2012, a public hearing was held to solicit comments from area residents and business owners.
In October of 2013, residents were “surprised” to learn that the South Carolina Highway 41 bridge replacement project was under way after many years of delays.
They were even more surprised to learn that the $36 million bridge over the Wando River would be a span that is 55 feet high, instead of the 35 feet preferred by the majority of residents and local officials.
At the time, the SCDOT planned to award a contract for a 55-foot-high fixed-span in February of 2014. The project was expected to take about three years.
Officials with the SCDOT said they believe a lower bridge would not have been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, the agency that determines bridge heights, and applying for a lower bridge would only delay the project.
In January of 2014, cyclists got into the fray, demanding a wider bike and pedestrian lane on the new Highway 41 bridge. They got their way.
South Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge said the state could rework the design to remove two proposed 5.5-foot-wide sidewalks in exchange for a 10-foot-wide bike and pedestrian lane.
But even then it remained unclear if those working to lower the bridge's height would be successful.
The bridge abuts Mount Pleasant but is in Berkeley County. Currently, boaters must request 12 hours in advance to have the bridge opened.
SCDOT had been coordinating and consulting with the Federal Highway Administration, the United States Coast Guard and other stakeholders for nearly the last 10 years developing the redesign.
Department of Transportation officials said more than 650 surveys were sent to property and business owners who use that area of the river, along with comments made during public meetings, and those results were given to the Coast Guard for review and to determine how tall the bridge needs to be.
After a thorough review, the Coast Guard has determined that a 55-foot vertical clearance best meets the “reasonable needs of navigation” for the river.
SCDOT has directed its contractor, PCL Civil Constructors, to proceed with design and construction of a fixed-span structure wit 55-foot vertical clearance.
According to the Department of Transportation, the design-build contract with PCL is in the amount of $30.4 million.
The bridge is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016.
Traffic will continue as normal on the existing bridge while the new bridge is under construction, officials said.