Train-damaged bridge could reopen ahead of schedule

Construction crews with Cape Romain Contractors work on the new bridge on Cypress Gardens Road. Construction is set to be completed Oct. 28, but work is running ahead of schedule and it could open much sooner. A CSX train derailed in April, knocking out the bridge.

Eric Nash works at Cypress Gardens, but he lives just down the road in Pimlico in Berkeley County.

Since April 28, when a CSX train derailed and wiped out a 78-year-old bridge on Cypress Gardens Road, Nash, visitors to the nature preserve, volunteers, industry workers, delivery trucks and others have had to take a 22-mile detour through Goose Creek, the Naval Weapons Station and the Bushy Park industrial area to get to work or visit the tourist attraction.

But in just a few weeks that could change.

The bridge is scheduled to be replaced and reopened by Oct. 28, but state highway officials say motorists should be able to reuse the road well before that.

"We are on schedule to complete work a few weeks ahead of that deadline," said Kevin Turner, a construction and maintenance engineer with the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Turner, who is heading up the project, declined to be more specific, but he added the construction crew, Cape Romain Contractors, has a huge incentive to rebuild the bridge before late October.

"For every day ahead of schedule, up to 30 days, the contractor will get $20,000 a day," Turner said. "We are dangling a pretty big carrot to get this done as fast as possible."

The DOT awarded a $3.05 million emergency road contract to Cape Romain in June to fast-track the project.

Heavy summer thunderstorms have hampered progress somewhat and any adverse weather over the next few weeks could slow up the project some, but highway officials believe the bridge will reopen well ahead of Oct. 28.

If the contractor completes the project 30 days ahead of schedule, that means the road will reopen by late September.

The bridge slabs on which 6,200 cars will travel daily are already in place and are being tested, Turner said.

"Checking the ride quality should tell you we are getting very close," he said.

That's good news for Nash and everyone else inconvenienced by the train mishap.

"That will be great," said Nash, who lives 5.4 miles from Cypress Gardens, but now drives 25 miles one way to get to work. "We are looking forward to getting back to normal."

Cypress Gardens Director Dwight Williams will be happy as well.

The bridge collapse occurred during the spring, one of its busiest times of the year for the nature preserve. If the road reopens earlier than expected, visitors will find it easier to attend a major event on the botanical garden's calendar this fall. Halloween in the Swamp is set for Oct. 24-25.

The road closure affected summer camp attendance, reduced volunteer participation and affected employee morale, Williams said.

"Reopening the road in time for a popular fall event will certainly change that," he added.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or