Those pushing for a wider bike and pedestrian lane on the new S.C. Highway 41 bridge apparently will get their way.
S.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge recently emailed several Lowcountry officials and said the state can rework the design to remove two proposed 5.5 foot wide sidewalks in exchange for a 10-foot wide bike and pedestrian lane.
"It's great news," said Tom Bradford, executive director of Charleston Moves, which called a meeting 10 days ago to push for the redesign.
Still, it remains unclear if those working to lower the bridge's height will be successful. The state plans to build the replacement bridge 55 feet over the Wando River, but many local officials think 35 feet is a more appropriate height.
St. Onge said he still plans to have transportation commissioners consider approving a contract to rebuild the bridge when the commission meets on Feb. 20.
"We are anxious to see this bridge replaced to help serve as both a transportation and commercial benefit to the region," he said.
Those pushing for a lower height are trying to get South Carolina's congressmen and Senators involved in pressing the U.S. Coast Guard as to why it feels the bridge must be 55 feet.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott recently wrote a Mount Pleasant resident, saying his staff is conducting meetings with the Coast Guard to see if a 55-foot-tall bridge really is the most cost effective and whether there are other alternatives. "Rest assured, I plan to remain engaged on this issue," his email said.
First District Highway Commissioner Jim Rozier has said he would rather see a 35-foot-tall bridge, but he doesn't want the height issue to delay work on replacing it. The state's proposed contract would replace the bridge at a cost of only $30.4 million - almost $10 million less than what some had anticipated the price would be. Reopening the permit process or going back out for new bids could drive the state's cost up by a lot.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page wrote St. Onge Friday to urge him to push for a 35-foot height "until denied in writing by the United States Coast Guard."
She also asked for fully protected, multi-use paths on both sides of the highway and to grant the town any unused right of way so it can develop a passive park with the land.
St. Onge's reply -sent to Page, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, House Speaker Bobby Harrell and state Sen. Larry Grooms -addresses only the bike and pedestrian access.
"We believe we can provide the flexibility needed in the future to accommodate bike-pedestrian needs when the four lane re-stripping occurs (by removing the proposed raised 5.5 foot sidewalk from both sides on the bridge while incorporating a wider and safer lane in coordination with plans for either side of the bridge)," he wrote.
Bradford said, "There still are a couple of fine points - engineering points to be resolved - but we will resolve them," he said. "We'll count this as a victory."
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.