It might be time to replace the Wando River bridge, says the state Senate transportation committee chairman. Engineers are worried about the ongoing safety of the bridge even after emergency repairs are made to a cracked main support cable.
"The long-term confidence in that bridge is not there," Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said after speaking with engineers Thursday.
"Similar bridges have not performed as hoped," said Grooms whose district includes Daniel Island. The bridge runs over the river between the island and Mount Pleasant.
The committee will begin asking the S.C. Department of Transportation and experts about the expected life of the bridge and ongoing maintenance and costs as soon as repairs are made, he said.
"I believe the time is now to start talking about replacement of the bridge. My concern is that now, two years after we closed the bridge for cable problems, we've had a complete cable failure," he said.
The life span of the nearly 30-year-old bridge was expected to be 50 years.
Replacement of the bridge is a decision for "down the road" after the current crisis is dealt with, said Ben Davis, chairman of the Transportation Commission.
"The reports we're hearing is that the bridge is not structurally unsound for the immediate future, if we can get corrected the problem that's occurred," he said.
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said a possible replacement would depend on the evaluation of the engineers.
"I think we have to some degree to rely on S.C. DOT to give us an answer on that," he said. The region has other transportation infrastructure needs, he said, and funding would depend on sources other than the legislative budget.
"But if the bridge isn't safe, absolutely it needs to be replaced," he added.
Grooms said bridge replacement could be folded into the overall improvement plan for improving Interstate 526.
The new bridge should not be as comparatively costly as the current span, because it won't have to be built as high, he said. The current bridge was raised to accommodate the former Navy base needs for work at the Detyens Shipyards upstream.
In terms of today's dollars the price tag will be much steeper than the $32.1 million cost 30 years ago.
"Yeah, it will. Yeah, it will," Grooms said with sigh. "It's not going to be cheap."
The westbound span of the James B. Edwards Bridge over the river on Interstate 526 was closed Monday after a weekly review inspection discovered a crack in one of eight main cables that support it. Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday ordered the Department of Transportation to reverse a lane on the eastbound span to move traffic both ways.
The reviews — of cables under both the westbound and eastbound spans — have been made since 2016 when one of the cables broke near where the damage was discovered Monday.
Reviews made weekly are a sign that a span is in serious trouble.
How serious remains to be seen, said Richard Rice, a board member of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers, who formerly worked on the Don H. Holt Bridge stretch of I-526.
"We just don’t know what’s wrong here," he said. Careful investigation is needed to see why the same problems that plagued a different cable in 2016 appear to have damaged the one that snapped.
“You see the same problem in the same room in the same manner,” Rice said.
Jennifer Berry Hawes contributed to this story.