WALTERBORO - State officials are reviewing the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge's warranty after the span iced over for the second time in two weeks, Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday.
Chunks of ice rained down on cars and led to the bridge's closure, snarling traffic and frustrating tens of thousands of motorists.
"Our office is currently working with DOT, we're looking at the warranty and we're looking at the materials," Haley said. "We're looking at the options. To heat the cables, to do something to get that done.
"At the end of the day we want people to be able to use that bridge."
As temperatures began rising following the two storms, ice fell from some of the more than 100 cables that are part of the bridge's support structure. The large chunks of ice smashed car windshields and prompted frantic 911 calls after the first storm, prompting officials to keep it closed after the second storm.
The bridge, which reopened again Friday, was closed for a total of about four days. Average annual daily traffic on the span is 75,500 vehicles.
The Governor's Office and the state Department of Transportation are looking into the issue, Haley said.
Heating the Ravenel Bridge cables might keep them ice-free, Haley said.
"We are looking at any and all options," she said.
So far, the DOT has declined to discuss those options but it has put forth the idea of using NASCAR-type heaters to melt ice on bridge travel lanes.
Haley made her comments about the bridge cable ice issue at the end of a news conference in storm-ravaged Walterboro to discuss efforts to restore electric power to South Carolinians.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page said officials have reached out to experts as far away as Sweden for advice on how to handle bridge icing.
"There are many cable-stayed bridges that face the same icing problem," she said.
Page said Haley has been responsive to her and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley's questions about the problem.
"I think that there are a lot of answers that need to be had," she said.
The goal is to prevent falling bridge ice from happening again next winter, she said.
The Ravenel Bridge is North America's second-longest cable-stayed span at 1,546 feet. It carries travelers on U.S. Highway 17 over the Cooper River between Charleston and Mount Pleasant. It has eight traffic lanes and a bicycle/pedestrian lane.
The bridge deck is supported by 128 wire cables, which hang in a harp-like arrangement from two diamond-shaped towers. The towers reach 575 feet above the water and are connected by the 1,546-foot long main span.
At least nine people called 911 to report that the ice damaged their vehicles after first ice storm two weeks ago, officials said. One person said she prayed for safety as she drove off the bridge while others cried into their cellphones for help.
Their ordeal prompted a closure of the bridge and another traffic nightmare for motorists who found alternative routes such as Interstate 526 jammed with cars after the second storm.
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