Lowcountry Bridge Will Remain Closed Four More Weeks

May 17, 2018

Deputy Secretary for Engineering Leland Colvin shows what the cable that snapped looks like inside
Credit Victoria Hansen

It’s about four inches wide, 1,000 feet long and it shut down a critical, bridge in the Lowcountry Monday after it snapped. Now state transportation officials say it will take four weeks to repair the steel cable, one of eight, that connects the concrete segments of the James B. Edwards Bridge, better known as the Wando. The west bound lanes of I-526 over the bridge have been closed ever since, snarling traffic in the Charleston area.

“It was concerning enough for us to close the structure immediately,” said the Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall while addressing the press late Wednesday afternoon in North Charleston.  She said a new cable had just been brought in,  and work would start immediately to fix the bridge.  She also suggested the east bound lanes of the interstate may be changed so traffic can flow both ways, but added a final decision has yet to be made.

Traffic on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant heading to the Ravenel bridge
Credit Victoria Hansen

The fix can’t come soon enough for drivers who depend on the bridge.  It’s a major artery connecting coastal communities like Mount Pleasant to Charleston and beyond.  More than 30,000 cars cross the span daily, as well as truckers traveling to and from the Wando Terminal.  Some commuters reported Wednesday trips that typically take 20 minutes, instead took as long as one to two hours.  Some detour routes direct drivers across the Ravenel Bridge.  An already busy stretch, at times is now a clogged climb.

“Unfortunately, right now we are unable to pinpoint the exact cause of the ruptured cable,” said Deputy Secretary for Engineering Leland Colvin.  “As a result of that, we are not going to be unable to reopen the bridge due to public safety until the temporary repairs are made.”  He said that would take four weeks, with an opening date of June 11.  He added that after a temporary fix is in place, the permanent work could continue with the bridge open.

View of west bound span of the Wando Bridge from Mount Pleasant
Credit Victoria Hansen

The discovery of the ruptured cable has created new concerns about the health of the 30 year-old bridge.  Colvin admits a damaged cable was found in 2016 prompting the state to inspect the bridge every week, until recently.  “We’re now doing daily site visits walking from end to end both west and east bound,” he said. 

Those daily inspections also turned up a problem with what Colvin calls a tendon embedded in the concrete.  He says it too will have to be replaced, but adds it’s not a huge concern.  When asked, he said the expected life span of a bridge like the Wando is 50 years.  But said such a bridge does require routine maintenance.

Trucks rerouted with ramp to I-526 west bound closed from Long Point Road in Mount Pleasant coming from the Wando Terminal
Credit Victoria Hansen

So has there been concern about the bridge’s cables and exactly how many repairs have been made in the past?   Transportation Secretary Hall told reporters she has ordered a complete review of their records, including a time line of all inspection reports and repairs, and it will be reviewed once it’s done.  “We have nothing to hide,” she said.  “We are all in this together.”

When asked if the bridge could open sooner or later, Colvin said this, “Anything is possible.”