Whether it’s from normal wear-and-tear, defective construction or an act of man, fragile road systems across the country have been shut down for repairs from time to time, often creating traffic snarls for many thousands of commuters and headaches for officials.
As Lowcountry residents map out alternate routes to avoid Interstate 526’s temporarily closed James B. Edwards Bridge over the Wando River, there are lessons to be learned from other cities that navigated the inconvenience of central commuter routes being cut off for extended periods.
One of the most notable recent incidents was the collapse last year of a bridge on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, which resulted in six weeks of detours on already gridlocked streets.
“I think it actually made my commute easier because people weren’t taking the usual way to get into the city,” said Vanessa Cloutman, who lives in Perimeter Center.
Some locals are saying the same thing. Members of a Facebook page called Clements Ferry Residents for Safer Roads posted Wednesday about shorter commute times despite more cars on the road, crediting Berkeley County deputies with keeping the traffic moving.
But most people are bracing for more time in their vehicles as they drive around the closed highway, especially since Charleston residents do not have the mass transit options that were available in Atlanta.
On March 30, 2017, a section of Atlanta's I-85 near Piedmont Road collapsed in a fiery heap, caught live on local news, after a 39-year-old homeless man, Basil Eleby, set fire to an upholstered chair that then ignited high-density polyethylene pipes being stored under the overpass by the Georgia Department of Transportation. In all, 350-feet of roadway was damaged.
Arson charges against Eleby were dropped in exchange for him going through an 18-month behavioral diversion program.
His actions made a clogged mess in an already gridlocked section of the city as residents braced for the highway to be closed for months.
That part of the highway is traveled by nearly 200,000 cars daily – more than 5 times the number of vehicles that are driven daily over the Wando bridge.
In the days after Atlanta’s incident, many school districts canceled class, governments altered their hours and businesses encouraged employees to work from home or find alternate routes – including riding the MARTA public transportation system.
“I think my commute was easier because a lot of people took the train while the highway was closed,” Cloutman said.
With GDOT offering a $3.1 million incentive to get the work done quickly, contractor C.W. Matthews worked 24-hours a day, using “accelerated construction” techniques and quick-curing concrete, to complete the work a month ahead of schedule.
And many commuters returned to their vehicles when it was reopened six weeks later, according to reports.
Officials with the GDOT did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment Wednesday.
About a decade ago, drivers in Minnesota also had to find alternate routes after the Interstate 35 Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007, during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
It was Minnesota's third busiest bridge, a vital link for many commuters. The road carried about 140,000 vehicles daily.
Its collapse affected river, rail, road, bicycle and pedestrian, and air transit.
To ease the commute, officials increased the number of lanes on detour routes by repainting traffic lines to eliminate wide shoulders and additional buses were added from area park-and-ride locations.
The design-build method was used to finish the replacement on an accelerated schedule. It opened on Sept. 18, 2008, three months earlier than planned.