Getting around by car or even bicycle in many parts of Columbia and Richland County will be tough for weeks and months to come, officials said Thursday.
Sinkholes, washed-out bridges and impassable roads — many also washed out — are in everyone’s future, along with trying to figure out the fastest way to get where you are going.
“Pack your patience when you go out,” said S.C. Highway Patrol trooper David Jones. “It isn’t going to be convenient to travel around Columbia with some of these roads being impassable.”
Things won’t be back to normal anytime soon. “It will take months to repair or replace or do whatever needs to be done,” said state Transportation Department spokesman Pete Poore.
With the S.C. National Guard, Richland County Council is exploring the possibility of using military-style metal bridges as a substitute for washed-out bridges until permanent structures can be built, council chairman Torrey Rush said. The county has identified about 35 places where the Guard could put bridges if feasible, Rush said, adding discussions are only in the preliminary stages.
Congestion could get worse soon
Every day, tens of thousands of commuters drive into and out of South Carolina’s Capital City from lower Richland, the Northeast and Lexington and Sumter counties.
And that congestion is about to get worse.
In a week, the annual State Fair, which attracts hundreds of thousands, is slated to be held at its Assembly Street site, near Williams-Brice Stadium. The 10-day annual event attracts about 80,000 fairgoers each day. Even in normal times, that means access roads are crowded and traffic moves slowly.
That’s not all. “Once schools go back in session – they’ve been off all week – there will be more traffic on the road,” said Highway Patrol trooper Kelley Hughes. “You may want to leave early and study maps and figure out the best way where you’re going.”
Richland Districts 1 and 2 – which together have some 50,000 students and 4,500 teachers – have not yet reopened, largely due to road conditions. School officials are assessing the condition of the county’s roads, hoping to develop alternate school bus routes to pick up and drop off students.
50-plus washed-out bridges, roads
That’s a chore because Richland County accounted for more than 25 percent of the approximately 400 roads and bridges closed statewide, according to the state Transportation Department.
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, 116 Richland County bridges and stretches of roads were deemed impassable, either because of flooding or, more seriously, a road or bridge had been washed out. That is far more washouts than any other county, according to the Transportation Department.
In the city of Columbia alone, there were 17 road or bridge washouts and two sinkholes, at 5000 N. Main St. and 4400 Fort Jackson Blvd.
Richland County’s total included:
▪ Approximately 25 bridges that either have collapsed or been eroded, making them unstable
▪ Stretches of 31 roads that were washed out
▪ Approximately 60 stretches of roads closed due to flooding. Damage to those roads — some may be washed out — won’t be assessed until later.
Adjoining counties weren’t hit nearly as hard as Richland. In Kershaw County, 13 roads and bridges were washed out, according to the Transportation Department. In Lexington County, approximately 25 roads and bridges were listed as closed.
Next? Coastal woes
The Transportation Department can’t move more quickly to assess damage and make repairs for several reasons, spokesman Poore said. “The water has to recede before we can even tell what needs to be done,” he said. “As the water recedes, we still are uncovering damage.”
Also, the floodwaters are moving toward the coast. In the next few days, hundreds more roads and bridges could wash out in coastal counties, including low-lying Georgetown, Poore said, further stretching the Transportation Department’s resources.
This week, DOT divided up its 200 engineers into 28 teams to assess all road and bridge trouble spots in the state.
When it comes to repairing or replacing a road or bridge, the first priority will be interstates and then primary routes, then secondary routes, Poore said. However, he added, Transportation Department teams are helping counties and cities assess damage to secondary and county roads. The state will be eligible for federal emergency money, which should help pay for much of the needed work, he said.
‘There’s really no time frame’
Trooper Jones said if a road or bridge is out, or there’s a sinkhole, residents shouldn’t expect a quick fix.
“There’s really no time frame on when they will be fixed,” Jones said. “If a road has been closed the past few days, don’t expect it to reopen anytime soon.”
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins, whose department also serves Richland County, said he expects his fire trucks and emergency vehicles may have to reroute to avoid impassable stretches of road. In Lower Richland, with its network of winding rural roads, for example, “If we can’t get somewhere from one end, we can get to it from another end,” Jenkins said.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Thursday the road closures should not slow down his deputies much. “We’ve been able to get around,” said Lott, whose deputies have four-wheel-drive vehicles, boats and helicopters.
Major Richland County roads and bridges that are out include:
- Garners Ferry Road at Devine Street where Fort Jackson Boulevard and Rosewood Drive meet
- Polo Road at Two Notch Road
- North Trenholm Road from Pinebrook Road to Reamer Avenue
- Bluff Road at the northbound ramps to I-77
- Forest Drive from Willingham Drive to Lakeshore Drive