The S.C. Department of Transportation reopened the westbound span of the James B. Edwards Bridge over the Wando River Saturday morning, bringing an end to nearly three weeks of traffic headaches amid questions regarding the safety and longevity of the critical Lowcountry motorway.

The bridge was closed on May 14 after crews conducting a routine inspection found a broken cable that functioned as one of the bridge's primary supports.

"The bridge is absolutely safe," said state Transportation Secretary Christy Hall. "Just to reassure everybody, I have no concerns whatsoever about this bridge and we will do the maintenance necessary to make sure we get years of life to come out of this structure."

A procession that included Hall, DOT's Deputy Secretary for Engineering Leland Colvin, Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie, state Rep. Nancy Mace and Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg were the first to cross the reopened bridge shortly after 8:30 a.m.

Hall praised her team's coordination with local and state law enforcement, as well as with engineering experts from five different states.

Everyone involved did "whatever it took" to get the bridge reopened, she said.

Officials had originally projected that the roadway would remain closed until June 11.

For many motorists, Saturday's news was welcome.

Mount Pleasant resident Shawn Fruchter was refueling his car before crossing the bridge on his way to Columbia Saturday morning.

"It's been tough," Fruchter said of the closure.

Nevertheless, he was happy about the reopening and felt residents handled the increased traffic during the repair process well.

"I think the community really came together," Fruchter said.

Others, like Mount Pleasant resident Sunny Coaxum, said they weren't convinced the bridge is safe.

Not enough time was spent testing and investigating before Saturday's reopening, Coaxum said.

Officials, however, stress that they're committed to further improving safety.

During a press briefing on Thursday, Hall stated that a departmental review of records showed the bridge had been problematic since opening in 1991.

Rainwater leaked into its hollow interior over the years and caused damage to some of the eight primary cables tying together the bridge's concrete segments, Hall said. 

Inspections since at least 2010 showed damage to the cables and experts were able to link corrosion found on a damage cable found in 2016 to the broken cable discovered in May.

As part of the repairs, the broken cable was replaced with two new ones and crews worked to seal spots where they discovered water seeping inside, causing the old cable to rust.

In addition, DOT will install an acoustic monitoring system on the bridge, Hall said.

The system works by detecting sounds if strands within the cables break, according to DOT documents obtained by The Post and Courier. DOT personnel can use the sounds, information on where in the cables they come from and other data from the sensors to prevent breakages like the one that caused the shutdown. 

"We will still be doing maintenance operations on this bridge," Hall said. "You'll see lane closures. The truck climbing lane, we'll still keep that closed because we will actually be doing some additional work."

Once permanent repairs on the cables are complete, crews will apply sealant to the bridge's entire road surface, the secretary said. Motorists can expect lane closures during that time. 

"Pay attention and just know we're out working for you," Hall said. 

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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