Ben Sawyer Bridge to close during work

The Ben Sawyer Memorial Bridge will be closed for 72 hours Jan. 8-Jan. 11 so the state Department of Transportation can make necessary repairs to the swing bridge's operator's house.

Starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, the Ben Sawyer Bridge will close for 72 hours so rusty steel beams supporting the 5-ton bridge tender's house and a concrete slab can be replaced.

"This is something that we have to do to keep the operation safe," said State Bridge Maintenance Engineer Lee Floyd. The condition of the bridge poses no danger to the traveling public, he said.

Those wishing to travel between Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island while the work is being done must use the Isle of Palms Connector, officials said. The bridge will reopen at 7 a.m. Jan. 11, after the $133,000 project is done.

Floyd said he decided it was better to close the bridge for three days and get the bridge-tender support beams replaced all at once rather than doing the job in a piecemeal fashion, which would result in more traffic disruptions. "The beams have been deteriorating for a number of years, and it got to the point that we needed to do something. I'd rather just go ahead and short it up and be done with it," he said.

The contractor, Eastern Bridge Co. of Blacksburg, will jack up the 10,000-pound bridge tender's house and the concrete slab on which it sits in order to replace a number of primary and secondary support beams, he said.

"It's going to be a somewhat tricky operation. You're dealing with an unusual situation," Floyd said. The contractor must take particular care to not damage the electrical and plumbing systems for the bridge tender's house, he said.

During the work, boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway will be limited to vessels that do not require the bridge to open. The bridge has a vertical clearance of 31 feet when closed. The Coast Guard's local notice to mariners and marine safety information bulletins will provide more detailed information for boaters.

The swing-span bridge, built in 1945, is on the DOT list for replacement, which is expected to be a two-year project estimated to cost $30 million. Last spring, DOT officials said they expect the replacement to begin in the fall. Officials contacted Wednesday said they had no updated information on the construction schedule.

During replacement, the bridge will close for a week while a new steel superstructure is brought in by barge and lifted atop the existing bridge piers, which will be strengthened.