MOUNT PLEASANT - As the state plans to open bids soon for a new S.C. Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River, more Lowcountry residents are continuing to raise concerns about its height and ability to accommodate bikes.
Tom Bradford and Stephanie Hunt of Charleston Moves, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group, wrote the state this week to voice concern about whether the new bridge's design is sufficient to welcome bicyclists and pedestrians.
"The current plan will create danger," their letter said. "Riding a bike in the same lane as cars whizzing by at 50-plus mph is a recipe for tragedy."
Bradford and Hunt, Charleston Moves' director and board chairman, respectively, said they applaud the state's thinking to date about bicyclists and pedestrians, but they remain concerned that the bridge's outer lanes - which are not designed to carry cars at first - ultimately would require cars and cyclists to share the same lane as traffic volumes rise.
"In other words," they said, "safe bridge access for cyclists-pedestrians will deteriorate markedly just as the demand for it peaks. ... It would be a mistake to consider these comments as 'too late.' "
The letter, addressed to S.C. Department of Transportation program manager Jae Mattox, also said Charleston Moves also is concerned about the proposed 55-foot height. Many residents and local officials have said they prefer that the new $36 million bridge over the Wando River be a span that's 55 feet high, instead of the 35 feet preferred by the majority of residents and local officials.
Asked about the letter - and the process of the S.C. 41 bridge replacement - S.C. Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Poore said, "The bridge height issue was decided earlier this year, and it will be a 55-foot, fixed-span bridge. The current schedule is to open bids on the project in January."
But Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Paul Gawrych noted that contract is for both designing and building the bridge, so there is still time to push to change the design.
Gawrych and Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers and state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, have reached out to U.S. Sen. Tim Scott to try to meet with the U.S. Coast Guard and gain that agency's approval for a 35-foot-tall bridge.
"Some may believe we're grasping at straws here, but we're going to keep pushing the issue," Gawrych said, adding that he sees no reason the bridge needs to be taller than the Interstate 526 Westmoreland bridge over the Ashley River, which is also 35 feet tall.
Bradford noted the region's long-range transportation plan recommends a bike lane, and the U.S. Forest Service has been encouraging more biking and hiking in the nearby Francis Marion Forest.
He said Charleston Moves wasn't calling for structural changes to the plans, simply a reconsideration of how the bridge's 71 feet of width are marked. He suggested eliminating the bridge's raised sidewalks and instead creating a multi-use path that both pedestrians and cyclists could use - like the one they share on the Ravenel Bridge.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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