After 10 years in the planning, it appears that the Hwy. 41 bridge over the Wando River will indeed be built. But a lot of water must yet flow under the present impaired bridge before construction begins.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford recently put the complex conversation about the bridge's height on the fast track by arranging a conference call including local, state and federal parties in order to collectively figure out a way to provide a safe bridge that is appropriate in scale.
U.S. Coast Guard officials in Miami have stated their preference for a 55-foot-high bridge, but discussions with other entities, including the S.C. Department of Transportation, will continue.
It is clear that the appropriate height is 35 feet, but the road to a 35-foot bridge is circuitous and difficult.
In the meantime, SCDOT has approved a construction contract for a 55-foot-high bridge with the understanding that, if data persuade the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard that a 35-foot bridge works, SCDOT will help with the redesign.
The Town of Mount Pleasant has offered assistance to SCDOT in gathering necessary data about the size of vessels that would travel under the new bridge. Town Council and the mayor have voiced support for a smaller bridge.
Common sense would suggest a 35-foot bridge is adequate. A 55-foot bridge is far too large for navigational needs on this portion of the Wando. Only a few boats upstream of the bridge would need to lower their masts before going under.
And a planned marina upstream is expected to be used for small boats that wouldn't need anywhere near 55 feet of clearance.
Further, the big bridge would loom too large over the neighboring rural and suburban area.
And, as should be significant in a state where bridges and roads are in significant disrepair and funding falls far short of needs, a 35-foot bridge is much less expensive.
Already it appears one of the bridge's design flaws is to be addressed. Five-foot raised sidewalks planned for both sides of the bridge will be removed and a level surface will be designated for bike/pedestrian needs if the SCDOT Commission agrees. This is important as residential development in Berkeley County advances near the bridge.
By being responsive to public input, the SCDOT will avoid a costly mistake that would have diminished the bridge's value to the public and possibly required expensive adjustments as demand grows for safe biking over the Wando.
That cooperation, along with interest and support from Rep. Sanford, Mayors Joe Riley (Charleston) and Linda Page (Mount Pleasant), SCDOT Commissioner Jim Rozier, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, and Mount Pleasant Councilman Paul Gawrych, offer hope that adjustments to the height also will be made.
The design process for the Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River was lengthy and intense.
And the result is a beautiful bridge that serves the area's traffic needs well, accommodates marine navigation and provides a safe, popular lane for pedestrians and bicyclists.
If it takes a while longer to get the design of the Hwy. 41 bridge right, so be it. The existing bridge is 72 years old.
The next one is sure to be around a long time, too.