MOUNT PLEASANT — East Cooper area residents and commuters are settling in to spend more time in their cars the next several weeks, with some altering how they maneuver roads clogged by the shut down of the Wando River bridge over westbound Interstate 526.
Motorists again faced a long haul between their homes and workplaces Thursday, reporting one-way commutes that ate up 90 minutes to two hours. Even between the times of rush-hour gridlock, traffic crawled on sections of U.S. Highway 17.
"Everybody is adapting to this," Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie said of the bridge closure that officials expect to last for four weeks. "It’s going to be the new normal until June 11."
Residents from areas such as Daniel Island, West Ashley and Summerville ventured to Mount Pleasant for shopping runs and lunch dates on Thursday, carefully planning their trips around peak commute times.
Ellen Underhill left Daniel Island for the first time since the S.C. Department of Transportation closed the bridge for repairs Monday after a weekly review of the span revealed a broken cable.
She typically leaves Daniel Island almost daily, but traffic has kept her home lately. On Thursday, she shopped in Mount Pleasant in preparation to host guests over the weekend.
"Today I’m like, 'I’m gonna bite the bullet,'" she said while fueling up her car on U.S. 17, where one S.C. Highway Patrol trooper manned traffic from underneath a canopy tent and another watched a nearby intersection from his cruiser.
Underhill packed a cooler to keep her groceries from spoiling on the long trek home.
"Now you gotta be prepared," she said before continuing her errands.
Work as a real estate agent and personal trips have taken Dana Northrup from Mount Pleasant, where she lives, to Charleston, North Charleston and Daniel Island. She's tried to stay off the roads during the busiest times. Podcasts and music have helped during unavoidable hour-long drives that used to take 10 to 15 minutes.
"It's almost like preparing for a road trip when you get in the car," Northrup said.
Michael Fiem, co-owner of Tidal Wave Water Sports, heard of people driving more than two hours to get from Isle of Palms to Daniel Island, so he decided to offer boat rides between the islands. He's still ironing out the details, but beginning Monday, two trips to Daniel Island in the morning and two back to Isle of Palms in the afternoon will cater to students and employees.
"This is a community problem," said Fiem, who plans to offer the rides for free but will accept donations for gas money.
One local group is reminding commuters of other alternatives such as carpooling, buses and working from home. Lowcountry Go, a web-based tool funded by the DOT and started by the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments in March, allows commuters to register to find carpool partners.
Vonie Gilreath, mobility manager with the BCDCOG, said the group is in contact with the region's major employers such as Boeing, Medical University of South Carolina and Joint Base Charleston to help workers arrange carpools.
"This is the time to try it," she said. "This is the time ... for employers to think about telecommuting and teleworking."
At least two of the Charleston area's largest employers are making adjustments to try to cut down on peak traffic hours. The College of Charleston and city of Charleston are allowing employees affected by the bridge closure to adopt flexible work schedules.