Are our bridges safe? State officials working to improve the safety of Lowcountry bridges

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Thousands of people cross Lowcountry bridges every day, but just how safe are they?

State leaders say maintenance and safety remain top of mind nearly three years after a cable snapped on the Wando River Bridge leaving it closed for weeks.

South Carolina has 8,441 bridges spanning miles across the Palmetto State, carrying thousands of motorists every day – serving as a vital economic backbone.

Some of the most traveled bridges in the Lowcountry include the Ravenel Bridge, Don Holt Bridge, Wando River Bridge, Isle of Palms Connector and the Ben Sawyer Bridge. While the bridges are scenic staples for visitors and tourists alike, state leaders say it takes a lot to maintain the structures.

“All of those bridges are inspected at least once every two years with a full inspection done by a certified bridge inspector,” says Deputy Secretary of Engineering for South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), Leland Colvin.

State bridges maintained by the South Carolina Department of Transportation are made up of three components: foundation, super-structure, or the midsection and the deck.

“If any one of those components are rated as poor, then we inspect that bridge annually,” says Colvin.

If a bridge fails inspection or is deemed unsafe, it is immediately closed.

Currently, there are more than 35 bridges closed across the state. Concerns over bridge safety aren’t far from the minds of Lowcountry residents after a cable rupture on the Wando River Bridge.

“We had two that ruptured not at the same time of course so… we replaced the ruptured tendons and also placed two additional on both the eastbound and westbound bridges,” says Colvin.

The Wando River Bridge is a Segmental Box Bridge and is one of just two in the state. SCDOT crews say significant improvements have been made to the bridge to prevent future failures or safety concerns including adding cameras and microphones to monitor for potential failures.

“We’re also inspecting that on a weekly basis and we’ve put some instrumentation in that bridge as well from an inspection standpoint,” says Colvin. “We’ve got visual as well as audio indications if something were to go wrong.”

State officials say this is just an example of the constant work going into bridges across the state to ease motorists’ minds.

“As far as the safety of our bridges and where we’re looking at from our inspection program, it has really shed a light that we are very mature in our bridge inspection program here in South Carolina,” says Colvin.

The SCDOT has several on-going projects across the state to continue to increase safety of the state’s bridges, including some sealing of the roadway on the Wando River Bridge in the near future.