Live 5 Investigates: 750 deficient bridges identified across SC

Published: Jul. 2, 2018 at 6:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2018 at 6:04 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - On May 14, Charleston's usual rush hour traffic turned into a driving nightmare when thousands of cars came to what was essentially a standstill that stretched for miles.

The traffic that day, and several days following, came about because the South Carolina Department of Transportation was forced to shut down the westbound side of the Wando Bridge.

SCDOT crews found a snapped cable in the bridge which prompted an emergency closure for inspection and repairs.

After several days of increased traffic, SCDOT crews opened the eastbound side of the bridge to two-way traffic, which helped alleviate the congestion.

The westbound side of the bridge was not reopened until June 2—that means people in the Charleston area endured traffic congestion for nearly three weeks.

"It was miserable," State Representative Nancy Mace said. "One direction of one bridge shuts down here in the Charleston area and the entire city shuts down."

Drivers reported commutes taking double or triple the usual travel time.

Truck drivers like John Fields were also stuck in the traffic nightmare.

"It was a testing of patience because you were stuck on the bridge or stuck trying to get across or going two-and-a-half to three hours, give and take," Fields said.

But several drivers said they were not as concerned with the longer travel times as they were with their safety.

The unexpected shutdown of the Wando Bridge left several Charleston residents asking questions about the safety of other bridges.

"What else is out there that we don't know? What other bridges are problematic around the coast, or around the Lowcountry?" Mace asked.

Public records from SCDOT reveal the department manages more than 8,000 bridges in South Carolina.

About 750 of those bridges are listed as "structurally deficient."

As of June 1, 2017, about 315 of the 750 deficient bridges are classified as "load restricted," which means large vehicles, like trucks and school buses, must go around the bridge.

"If we think we're going to cross any of those bridges in where we're going, yes, it does apply to us," South Carolina Trucking Association representative and bus driver Keith Johnson said. "Very few commercial trucks go across those bridges."

SCDOT has outlined a 10-year plan that will fix two-thirds of the deficient bridges in the state.

Recently, SCDOT said the department is ahead of schedule on completing the repairs outlined in its 10-year plan.

However, in the Tri-County area, there are 52 bridges noted by SCDOT as "structurally deficient."

The 10-year plan only includes 11 bridges in that area slated for repairs.

That means 41 structurally deficient bridges in the Tri-County area will not be repaired within the next 10 years.

"We are the fastest growing section of the state," Mace said. "We are growing immensely every day, every single day. So I see infrastructure down in the Lowcountry needs to be the number one priority for the state."

SCDOT also performs routine inspections of bridges it manages.

Of more than 8,000 bridges owned by SCDOT only about 1,700 are inspected annually.

But Johnson said he thinks SCDOT is doing the best it can with the funding it has.

"I feel like they know the conditions of their bridges and that they're doing an adequate job of it for the time being, given the funding they have to work within," Johnson said.

Mace said she still has concerns about what more SCDOT officials could do to prevent incidents like the closure of the Wando Bridge from happening in the future.

"My questions are, more or less, what can we do in the future to prevent this from happening?" Mace asked. "Now that we know this is an issue, and it's been in the public for quite some time now, for several weeks now, what can we do moving forward so that we can prevent this from happening and have stronger bridges so we don't have to shut them down."

A spokesperson from SCDOT said requests for comment have been sent to Secretary Christy Hall, but those requests have not been returned for more than two weeks.

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