Melissa Webber now has to drive 20 minutes to get to her brother’s house – almost within sight from the front yard of her Gadsden home.
That’s more than 10 times how long the drive took before October floods washed away two culverts leaving about a 70-foot hole in the road connecting her to her sibling.
State transportation officials say the bridge and road will not be open until April, which means for the next four months, Webber will continue going out of her way to get places.
Her commute to work at A.C. Flora High School takes eight minutes longer than before. It also is a bigger headache.
“I have to fight Garners Ferry Road traffic,” she said near her home, about 100 yards from the washed-out road.
To get to the school, Webber has to backtrack east to Griffins Creek Road, which takes her north to Poultry Lane. Then, she takes Old Eastover Road to Garners Ferry, which takes her into Columbia. Before, she could take Bluff Road west to South Beltline and then turn on Falcon Drive.
Richland County was hit hardest by October’s historic flooding with 133 road and bridge closures at its peak, almost twice as many as Sumter, the county hit the second hardest.
Only 20 of the Richland closures remained closed last week, said Andy Leaphart, chief engineer for operations for the S.C. Department of Transportation. Thirteen of the 20 are related to impacted dams.
Eight of the 20 still closed in Richland County are roads in the rural Lower Richland area.
“Every effort is being made to design and construct these bridges as quickly as possible,” Leaphart said. The storm waters blew out two 10-by-10 foot culverts carrying Toms Creek under Bluff Road, he said. “Under normal operations and procedures, a replacement such as this one could take over a year to complete.”
However, emergency replacement procedures have allowed the Transportation Department to speed up replacing the bridge.
In the meantime, Webber will have to drive out of the way to run errands and get to work. What used to be a quick, five-minute trip to the post office now takes Webber 25 minutes, she said.
Webber also used to stop by her brother’s house at least once a week. But the last time she stopped by was three weeks ago, when she helped him clean out the house, damaged by the flood.
With the bridge out, Toms Creek prevents Webber from walking to her brother and other family members’ houses.
Added travel time, costs
In Hopkins, located roughly 10 miles northwest of Gadsden, residents have difficulty getting to parts of Eastover and other areas northeast of the damaged Bluff Road.
Hopkins resident Eugene Burden is an associate minister at Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Eastover. It used to take Burden about 15 minutes to get to the church, which he visits about three times a week. Now, the commute takes twice as long.
Burden said he also picks up a young man on his way to church just on the other side of where the bridge is out, which causes him to backtrack some before heading to church.
The April repair date is unacceptable, Burden said, adding, “When I first heard it, I thought it was a joke.”
Lower Richland often gets less consideration because of where the area is geographically – more rural and not as close to a city, he said.
Webber said the longer the repairs take, the higher the cost for residents. “We pay taxes to travel these roads,” she said, adding taxes still have to be paid even though the portion of the road is unusable.
At the same time, Webber said she wants the repair done right, which takes time.
But until it is fixed, there is extra wear and tear on her car as mileage ticks up. There is also additional cost because she has to fill up her tank twice a week instead of just once.
Last week, a large truck used by transportation workers was at the bridge – a welcome sight for Webber, who did not mind the noise on the highway that, before the flood, carried a steady stream of traffic that included tractor trailers.
Lately, it is mostly quiet near Webber’s house, she said, walking across the almost empty highway where the edge of the road is eroded from the flood waters.
“Somebody make some noise.”
The flood of 2015
Eight roads are still closed in the Lower Richland area because of October’s historic floods. The estimated completion for the roads are:
Bluff Road – March 31, 2016
Caughman Road – Dec. 15, 2015
Community Pond Road – Unknown, depends on dam repairs
Congaree Road – Spring 2016
Congress Road – March 31, 2016
Rawlinson Road – Unknown, depends on dam repairs
Zeigler Road – Unknown, depends on dam repairs
Zeigler Road at Old Eastover Road – Spring 2016
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Transportation