MOUNT PLEASANT — A broken cable in a historically problematic bridge over the Wando River has closed westbound Interstate 526 for at least two days, snarling traffic throughout East Cooper.
The faulty cable that helps hold together concrete blocks in the James B. Edwards Bridge was discovered Monday morning during a weekly review, the S.C. Department of Transportation said.
A more thorough evaluation was expected to take two days, DOT officials said. Depending on those findings, the bridge running from Mount Pleasant to Daniel Island could be closed for longer, they added.
About 35,000 cars travel over the span on an average day, and they will be diverted elsewhere.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie said commuters traveling to work, students riding school buses and truck drivers making deliveries to the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal can expect longer trips. Beginning Wednesday, gate hours at the terminal will be adjusted to alleviate truck traffic during rush hours.
Haynie made his remarks during a Monday afternoon news conference that had started late because some officials were stuck in traffic.
"This will affect traffic all over Mount Pleasant," he said. "There's nobody in Mount Pleasant that is not going to be affected. ... This is a time for us to be courteous, a time for us to be patient."
Similar problems cropped up on the 7,900-foot-long bridge about two years ago, but the span has been marred with trouble throughout its nearly 30-year history. The $32 million bridge was designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers, the Tallahassee-based company that designed the pedestrian bridge that collapsed in March near Florida International University in Miami, killing six people.
Made up of concrete segments connected by 92 cables, it is the only bridge of its kind in South Carolina, DOT Deputy Secretary for Engineering Leland Colvin said.
The cable that snapped was one of eight main cables across the span of the bridge.
A repair job on a similar cable that had corroded in the same location was completed in October 2016, resulting in limited closures, Colvin said. Since then, the state has conducted weekly reviews of the bridge. Monday's issue was discovered during one of those reviews, he said.
Most bridges in the Palmetto State are inspected at least once every two years, Colvin said. A thorough evaluation of the Wando River bridge was done last month, and it found no such ruptured cables.
Once the problem was discovered Monday, state and town authorities worked to close the bridge promptly.
Westbound traffic was diverted to Long Point Road, which leads to U.S. Highway 17. From there, drivers either could head southbound on Highway 17 toward Charleston and Interstate 26 or turn north to S.C. Highway 41, then to Clements Ferry Road, where they could re-enter westbound I-526.
The detours choked the roads Monday afternoon, eliciting honking and yelling among some. As the evening wore on, drivers using social media continued to complain about the gridlock and said they dreaded the Tuesday morning commute.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Carl Ritchie said additional officers would closely monitor traffic along the town’s main arteries over the next few days and take special measures, such as overriding stop lights, if necessary. Towing companies have been deployed to three sections of the town to quickly address fender benders and other wrecks.
"Our intention is to keep it flowing the best we can," he said.
Problems with the Wando River bridge arose a few years after it opened to traffic in 1991. Workers at the time alleged that work on the highway was poorly done.
In 1995, the aluminum joints connecting concrete sections of the span started breaking and had to be replaced.
A detailed history of inspections over the decades since then was not immediately available.
Colvin said the special review program that pinpointed the damaged cable Monday is "rigorous." The effort has revealed some water intrusion in the structure and deterioration, he added, but what caused the busted cable remains a mystery.
The DOT vowed to expedite its assessment and repairs, apologizing in a statement for the significant inconvenience.
At a Waffle House on Long Point Road, Daniel Island resident Kirk Shaw Jr. finished up a plate of pork chops and toast early Monday evening as cars crept past outside.
He and a friend had figured a bad wreck was to blame for the heavy traffic. Shaw shook his head upon learning that the interstate he regularly travels would be closed for at least two days.
“So now I got to go all the way around, when I live right there,” he said. “We just came to get a quick bite to eat. ... It sucks because I gotta be somewhere at a certain time.”