The 150-plus people who turned out Tuesday to talk about the proposed replacement for the S.C. Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River agree on one thing: The bridge needs to be replaced.
But they disagree, sometimes heatedly, on what type of structure should replace the 71-year-old span.
In 2010, most agreed that the best option was a low-profile bascule bridge similar to the current structure. But in May, the S.C. Department of Transportation commission decided it could not afford the extra cost to build and maintain that structure.
The current proposal is a fixed span with 55-foot clearance.
“This bridge is not safe any longer and we need to do something, and this is the only thing I see that we’ve got the funding for,” said Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails.
Many who live in the area, which is in Berkeley County, are concerned about their quality of life with additional noise and development. Most said they prefer a 35-foot clearance over the water they called a “tributary to nowhere.”
“Right now, the trees absorb the sound,” said Paul Michaud, who lives in Dunes West. “Just think of the sound of an 18-wheeler going up a bridge. I wonder if in (the SCDOT’s) environmental studies, they went beyond the frogs, fish and alligators and considered people.”
The DOT believes the bridge needs the higher clearance to gain approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, but Barry Dragon, director of the district bridge program for the Coast Guard, said the bridge only needs to be high enough to “meet the reasonable needs of navigation.”
He said he proposed a 120-day test to show how often the bridge opens, that would involve potentially opening it on 30-minute intervals.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable opening it twice a day,” said Jae Mattox, program manager for the DOT.
Now, boaters must request at least 12 hours in advance to have the bridge opened, which they say is an inconvenience. It opens an average of once a month.
“We’re basically bound in now by a dilapidated bridge,” said Phil Hardwick, who lives on the north side of the bridge and owns a sailboat. “We want to be environmentally responsible, but the height of the bridge is not going to stop developers.”
The DOT will consider written comments submitted at the hearing as well as those submitted through its website to decide how to proceed on the project.