Drawbridge set on Highway 41

A single-leaf bascule bridge design as shown has been selected by the South Carolina Department of Transportation as the best option for replacement of the S.C. Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River that connects Mount Pleasant and Berkeley County.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- A low-slung S.C. Highway 41 drawbridge will be built over the Wando River instead of a 55-foot-tall fixed span, the state Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

"We're going with the moveable span," said Tony Fallaw, DOT project manager.

Right-of-way acquisition for a new bridge parallel to the existing 69-year-old bridge is expected to begin in the winter or spring of next year. Construction could begin in late 2012 and is expected to last about two years, Fallaw said.

The existing bridge is structurally deficient and obsolete but not unsafe. It's not worth rehabilitating, Fallaw said.

The new bridge will cost $40 million, with 80 percent of the cost paid by the federal government. The remaining 20 percent will be funded through the state, Fallaw said.

Opponents of the tall bridge worried that it would open the upper reaches of the Wando River to development. Phil Hardwick of Bulls Bay Outdoor Outfitters said he was pleased with the decision to build a bridge with the so-called "single-leaf bascule" design.

"The bascule is the way to go. Nobody really wanted a tall bridge anyway," he said.

As currently designed, the new bridge will have a 14-foot vertical clearance. It will open automatically on demand with 12-hour notice. The old bridge has a middle section that swings open sideways to allow boats through. The swing span is cranked open manually on 24-hours notice.

From 2005 through 2009, the bridge opened 50 times on demand, including eight times in 2009 and seven times in 2008.

The 2,000-foot-long drawbridge will cost $10 million more than a fixed-span bridge and will require more maintenance, Fallaw said.

He said the single-leaf bascule design was really the only option because of support for it expressed by the public, local governments and permitting agencies.

Town Councilman Paul Gawrych said the favored design for the new bridge sends a message. "We don't want to see a lot of development and a lot of marinas," he said. Nearly everybody who spoke on the issue at public hearings favored the design selected by the DOT, he said.

The new two-lane bridge will have 10-foot-wide shoulders for bikers and pedestrians. It will be wide enough to become a four-lane bridge. The option of four-laning the bridge at a later date dovetails with plans to widen Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant, as well as plans for improvements to Clements Ferry Road in Berkeley County, Fallaw said.

Mount Pleasant, Berkeley County and the U.S. Coast Guard have signed off on the drawbridge design, Fallaw said. Mayor Billy Swails notified the state DOT in a letter that the town would like to use a portion of the old bridge for a fishing pier.

Gawrych said the town also envisions a park at the location. "It's a beautiful entranceway into the town of Mount Pleasant," he said.

The DOT reached its decision on the bridge design after public hearings and a detailed study that evaluated the potential environmental impacts of the project. The upper reaches of the Wando River abut the Francis Marion National Forest.

"We were certainly concerned with the environmental effects," Fallaw said.