The controversial plan to replace the rickety Highway 41 bridge over the Wando is boiling down to this: Common sense versus government rules.
Common sense says 35 feet is plenty high for a bridge that crosses the river just below where it is little more than a creek.
But federal codes appear to say 55 feet is the proper height.
A handful of people have spoken up for the taller version, but the overwhelming majority of people are exasperated that taxpayers will be asked to pay for a bridge that is unnecessarily high and thus unnecessarily expensive. Besides, they note correctly, the scale of the looming bridge is wrong for the rural/suburban surroundings.
First District Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., has joined a number of local leaders trying to inject some common sense in this process. His office recently held a conference call, including representatives of the S.C. Department of Transportation and the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, federal highway officials, local municipal leaders and other congressional officials.
Rational people should be able to arrive at a rational plan for the bridge. And while some people have criticized Mr. Sanford for being too involved in what's going on in South Carolina, his support could play a critical role in the bridge outcome.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has also expressed support for the smaller bridge.
The issue, Mr. Sanford has said, should be what can be done, not how to avoid stepping out of the lines.
"If we adhered to the historic norm, Charleston would have torn down buildings like Jacksonville did and put up new ones. The Ravenel bridge wouldn't be the unique architectural structure that it is and wouldn't have the pedestrian path that has become a popular landmark. ... To maintain the unique look and feel of the Lowcountry means being creative in how to solve infrastructure problems."
Sanford, who is on the House Transportation Committee and Coast Guard Subcommittee on Homeland Security, noted the new Folly Road bridges are lower even though they see much more boat traffic.
It is the Coast Guard staff in Miami that has advised local planners to apply for a 55-foot span to be in accordance with regulations. The application hasn't been submitted yet. It is unclear whether the request will be for a 55-foot or 35-foot bridge, but Mount Pleasant's mayor and council members want it lower, and others, including S.C. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, agree.
Clearly governmental regulations are intended to protect people and property. One mission of Coast Guard regulations is to protect waterways for navigation. As it should be.
But in this case, the number of boats is negligible. The present bascule bridge hasn't opened much in a few years because officials are afraid it won't close. But when it did work, it needed to open only several times a year. Above the point where the bridge crosses are moored only two sailboats that can't fit under a 35-foot span without lowering their masts.
Build a bridge that is functional, less expensive, more in scale with its surroundings, and the choice of local officials and residents.
What's to debate?