Bridge repairs welcome

The Ben Sawyer Bridge will me closed from Jan. 8 through the 11th.

Most OK with Sullivan's detour

The people who live, work or do anything else on Sullivan's Island will have to take the long way from Mount Pleasant starting Tuesday, when the Ben Sawyer Bridge will close until Friday for repairs.

The state Department of Transportation will replace the steel support beams under the bridge-tender's house. Even though the detour across the Isle of Palms connector will add time to commutes, most see the repairs as necessary.

"I'm thrilled that they're doing it now and that they're getting it done quick," said Julie Sweat, who lives in Mount Pleasant but co-owns Sandpiper Gallery on Middle Street with husband, Mark.

She said the detour probably won't drastically affect her daily routine, but she couldn't say the same for potential customers. "It won't affect my schedule, but it will probably affect customers coming to the gallery," she said.

The bridge, which was built in 1945, is one of the few remaining swing bridges in South Carolina. Originally, the Department of Transportation planned to replace it with an elevated span bridge. Sullivan's Island residents rejected the idea.

Instead, the DOT will replace the bridge with a similar swing one that is wider and will accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. The $30 million bridge replacement project is expected to begin this fall and take two years.

Not everyone who lives on the island is fond of the swing bridge, though. Zachary Tetley, 19, works at his parents' store, The Green Heron. He said he gets impatient while the bridge is open, because it takes about 10 or 15 extra minutes to cross and many people drive slowly over it.

"I think they need to take out the drawbridge and put in an overpass," he said. "People tell me it's quaint, and I'm like, 'Quaint doesn't get me where I need to go.' "

But Elizabeth Fleming, his 16-year-old cousin who works as a cashier at the store, disagreed. "I think it's cute, and it has character," she said.

Curt Gibbons, a firefighter at the Sullivan's Island Fire and Rescue, said the detour won't affect him at all because he always takes the Isle of Palms connector from his Mount Pleasant home. But he said the bridge closing will delay the automatic aid agreement the fire department has with Mount Pleasant.

The department will take measures to make up for the lack of potential backup by putting two more firefighters on duty during the night shift, bringing the total to four. And if backup is needed, the department will call on the Isle of Palms Fire Department first.

People who frequent the Ben Sawyer Bridge are happy that the work is being done during January, when the traffic flow is lighter. The story would be different, however, if the bridge were closed during the summer, when beach traffic is heaviest. But to take the Isle of Palms connector is a minor inconvenience to many drivers.

"It'll probably add at the most 10 minutes. The biggest problem will probably be remembering to take it," Sweat said.