South Carolina highway officials say they are now working to replace an Orangeburg County bridge that has been closed for several weeks due to safety concerns.
The bridge is located on Cleveland Street (S-38-105) where it crosses a spillway about three miles east of Elloree, close to the entrance of Santee State Park. A report from the state Department of Transportation (SCDOT) blames deterioration in the bridge’s timber support structure.
“This thing’s deteriorated to the point where the inspection staff felt like the integrity of the bridge was being compromised,” said SCDOT Director of Preconstruction Mitchell Metts.
Construction will cost an estimated $1.8 million, but is not expected to start until next year. It will be paid for with federal money under the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.
Since the route is the main connection between Elloree and Santee State Park, nearby residents have not been happy about the closure. SCDOT officials say they have received numerous complaints from those in the area. Right now, those residents have to take an eight-mile detour.
The bridge was previously scheduled to be replaced in 2007. However, the state Legislature passed a law that year (signed by Governor Mark Sanford) which required transportation officials to prioritize construction projects. Since the Cleveland Street bridge replacement is ranked 118th, it would likely not be covered by limited funds in this year’s budget. However, the state Transportation Commission on Tuesday took the first step towards making the project eligible this year.
“We’re not keeping bridges open that are unsafe certainly,” Metts said, “So the only other option is to close them. Then, when we can identify the (funding), get them replaced as quickly as we can.”
Metts warned that more bridges around South Carolina could soon be closed for similar reasons unless the state finds a new way to pay for their replacement. The problem is that most of South Carolina’s highway money on the state level comes from a 16-cent per-gallon gas tax that has not been increased in over two decades. As a result, SCDOT officials warn their tax revenue has not kept pace with inflation.
Metts did not advocate for a tax increase in his talk with South Carolina Radio Network, but did say his agency needed more “resources” to keep pace with repairs. “What I think you’ll be seeing… is more bridges being closed for longer periods of time until the funding can be cobbled together to get them replaced,” he said.