Ruth Ashford and her neighbors in the Eastover area are going to get a new bridge to replace one that was washed away on Congress Road.
The bridge is one of 18 statewide that is being fast-tracked for replacement in the aftermath of the historic flooding that hit South Carolina in October. The cost of replacing the bridges is included in the $137 million for road repairs that the Transportation Department says it needs because of the flooding.
“I’m really sorry that it has taken something so catastrophic as this (flooding) to really force us to do what we, as a state, should have been doing – maintaining those bridges,” said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland.
A third of the bridges that will be replaced were “structurally deficient” before the flooding. Those bridges included deteriorating structures that were being monitored by the Transportation Department but remained safe to drive over, not requiring weight restrictions on vehicles crossing. However, the bridges were not scheduled for repairs any time soon, like hundreds of other S.C. deteriorating bridges.
South Carolina has 805 structurally deficient bridges, including 67 in Richland and Lexington counties. Statewide, 367 structurally deficient bridges have weight restrictions. Seven others are closed for safety reasons.
Getting South Carolina’s bridge system in good condition would take an added $71 million a year through 2040, according to the Transportation Department.
When lawmakers return in January, they will decide whether to raise taxes, reform the state Transportation Department or do both to pay for road and bridge repairs.
‘Mobility was cut off’
Ashford’s neighbor, Sara Ash, is excited the broken Eastover bridge will be replaced with a brand new one, expected to be completed by March 31.
“Yippee!” Ash said Friday morning about getting a new bridge.
Ash said she has managed to find ways to get around, even with the bridge being out. But during the October storm’s peak, she said, the area was temporarily isolated.
“It proved your vulnerability and how much you depend on roads (and) government agencies,” she said.
The state’s roads agency is working to accelerate replacing the 18 bridges, said Leland Colvin, a Transportation Department deputy secretary.
The agency is shortening the time frame between the start of the projects and building the bridges, giving incentives to contractors to finish bridges as quickly as possible, Colvin said.
Richland County, hardest hit during the flooding, will get five new bridges – four in the Eastover and Lower Richland areas and one near Arcadia Lakes.
Newberry County will get four new bridges, including three that will replace structurally deficient bridges.
State Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, said he is happy the bridges will be replaced. However, his constituents are being inconvenienced while the roads are closed.
The state’s roads agency says it is working to restore convenience as quickly as possible.
“Mobility was cut off as an effect of the storm,” Colvin said. “We’re trying to increase that mobility and that connectivity of the state’s system.”
‘Imperative that we do ... a long-term fix’
A total of 221 bridges were affected in some way by the flooding. About half – 105 – required some type of repair after the storm.
Forty-three bridges impacted by the storm were structurally deficient, and 32 of those will be repaired back to that substandard level.
Replacing the 32 structurally deficient bridges damaged in October’s flooding would cost $55 million, the state’s interim roads chief told a state Senate panel last week.
To get all S.C. bridges in good condition, it would take at least an additional $1.8 billion during the next 25 years, according to the Transportation Department.
“We’ve got a highway infrastructure issue that this state, in my opinion, has to address,” said state Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
The Senate will be tasked with addressing the issue when senators return to Columbia in January.
Leatherman said sending money to the Transportation Department in dribs and drabs – or using state budget surpluses and revenues to pay for road repairs, as some gas-tax opponents have suggested – will not solve the problem.
That’s because the roads agency has to know the amount of money that it will have in advance so it can plan road projects that can take years to design and complete, he said.
Cromer said while he typically is opposed to raising taxes, the condition of S.C. roads is so bad that they must be improved.
Cromer expects lawmakers to agree to spend more on roads. Most likely, he said, legislators will agree to increase the gas tax, use some added state revenues on roads and pass an income tax cut, a priority of Gov. Nikki Haley, who could veto a proposal that she does not like.
Jackson and other Democrats oppose an income tax cut, saying the state has more pressing needs, including spending more on education.
Still, lawmakers will have to find a way to pay for road and bridge repairs, Jackson said. “It is imperative that we do something that has a long-term fix.”
8,434: State-owned bridges
1,587: Substandard bridges, including structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges
805: Structurally deficient bridges, meaning there is deterioration but it remains safe and is monitored by the Transportation Department. Included are 367 load-restricted bridges that bar vehicles above a certain weight and seven bridges closed because they are unsafe
782: Functionally obsolete bridges, meaning they do not meet current design standards
Rivers Avenue at Filbin Creek
Governor Richardson Road at Big Branch
Plowden Mill Road at Tearcoat Branch
River Road from Westshore Drive to Kingfisher Drive
Old River Road at Barfield Mill Creek
Pine Grove Road at Twenty-five Mile Creek
Belfast Road at Garrison Creek
Hope Station Road at Crims Creek
S.C. 34 at Hellers Creek
U.S. 176 at Cannons Creek
Airbase/Congaree Road at Cedar Creek
Bluff Road at Toms Creek
Congress Road at Old Leesburg Road
Lower Richland Boulevard at Myers Creek
Rockbridge Road at Spring Lake
Samuel Padgett Road at Clouds Creek
Battery Park Road at Black Mingo Creek
Cade Road from Bradley Bay Road to Bartells Road
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Transportation