AAA: Nearly half of Charleston Co. bridges are 'substandard'

AAA: Nearly half of Charleston Co. bridges are 'substandard'
The Ravenel Bridge will close to all traffic at 7 a.m. Saturday ahead of the 41st Annual Cooper River Bridge Run. 

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County has more of the top 20 worst bridges in South Carolina than any other county and nearly half of the bridges in the county are considered "substandard," according to a study by AAA of the Carolinas.

The study, which found that one in five of the state's bridges are classified as substandard, states Charleston County has six of the top 20 worst bridges. Richland and Lexington Counties in the Midlands each have four bridges on the list, the motor club says.

Substandard isn't the same as unsafe, AAA says. When a bridge is considered unsafe , engineers will either close it, or restrict how much weight it can hold. Substandard bridges are defined as being either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.” “Structurally deficient” is defined as being in relatively poor physical condition and/or inadequate to handle truck weight. “Functionally obsolete” is defined as having inadequate design for current traffic volume.

Beyond the listing of the 20 worst, 47 percent of Charleston County bridges are classified as substandard, the study found. Lancaster County is in second place, with 40 percent of its bridges receiving the designation. Edgefield and Aiken counties round out the top four, with 33 and 31 percent substandard bridges, respectively. Williamsburg County has the fourth-fewest percentage of substandard bridges. Twelve percent of the county's bridges are classified as substandard, the study states. At just three percent, Calhoun County had the fewest number of bridges on the list.

The third worst in the state (and the worst in Charleston County) is the I-26 Overpass at Cosgrove on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. AAA says that bridge is considered "functionally obsolete," which means it was not built to handle the nearly 90,000 cars that use the bridge daily.

A portion of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, the section above Morrison Drive, is also on the list. The other Charleston County bridges making the list are the drawbridge over the Wappoo Cut and Wappoo Creek, the North Bridge, and northbound Ashley River Bridge, with the drawbridge headed into downtown Charleston from West Ashley, which almost 30,000 cars use every day.

More than half of South Carolina’s substandard bridges are five decades old or more, a reflection of the estimated $1.9 billion the SCDOT says it would cost to raise all of the state’s bridges to federal standards in one year, AAA's study states.

According to the study, the average age of the state's top 20 substandard bridges is 56 years old. The 20 bridges carry an average of almost 52,000 vehicles daily, which translates into a total of 7.2 million vehicle traveling across the state's 20 most substandard bridged each week.

The study also found that of the 9,200 bridges the South Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for, roughly 21 percent are considered substandard, which is better than the 24 percent national average and better than North Carolina's 31 percent and Virginia's 26 percent. South Carolina's bridges do not hold up as well in comparison with Georgia, where 17 percent of bridges are considered substandard; or with Florida, where only 16 percent of bridges are considered substandard.

“Despite North Carolina being a richer state, South Carolina has done a better job of maintaining its roads and bridges,” said AAA Carolinas President and CEO David E. Parsons said. “But more funding is needed to continue South Carolina’s bridge infrastructure revival.”
States inspect bridges to determine their condition and qualify for federal aid replacement funds when a bridge scores less than 50 on a 100-point scale, AAA says.

South Carolina’s gas tax, which is the lowest in the country, is the main funding supply for the SCDOT and has remained unchanged since 1987, but state funds have been shifted to address approximately 25% of the state’s load-restricted bridges over the next two to three years.

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