Lake Marion walking bridge to close permanently
by Robert Joseph Baker | August 4, 2017 9:40 am
The U.S. 301 bridge won’t be open for the total solar eclipse Aug. 21.
But it won’t be open afterward, either, according to state Department of Transportation District 7 Engineering Administrator Kevin Gant.
“The last few inspections we’ve had on the bridge have brought into question the structural integrity of the bridge,” Gant said Friday. “We were concerned with the eclipse, because a lot of people are going to look for an area to observe. A large amount of people on that bridge at one time, we knew that would be unsafe.”
Gant said that his office took a further look at the bridge and realized it should be closed permanently to all pedestrian traffic.
“Looking at the condition of the bridge, we thought it would be a risk at any time,” he said. “We had thought of closing it off to pedestrian traffic for the eclipse, definitely, but right now, I don’t see reopening the bridge. Work would have to be done to bring it back up to the standard to be acceptable. It’s an older structure that we did not take out of service.”
Gant said that the overall condition of the bridge deck is “in bad shape.”
“Also, from looking underneath, we can see where debris has fallen from the bridge into the lake,” he said. “It costs too much to maintain.”
Clarendon County Council Chairman Dwight Stewart said the closure is a blow not just for pedestrians, cyclists and others who use the 1.8-mile bridge linking Clarendon and Orangeburg counties for exercise. Rather, it serves as a blow to the Palmetto Trail and a project that downtown Summerton and Santee were hoping to get off the ground in the coming years.
Stewart is part of a committee that heard from the Palmetto Trail Conservation Service earlier this year. The organization talked about beautifying the bridge, which is a portion of the statewide trail, and linking downtown Summerton to downtown Santee while also beautifying those areas as well.
“It’s really going to hamper things,” said Stewart. “The trail, of course, will have to be rerouted. The next crossing is at Rimini on the railroad trestle. I don’t think they’d let you cross there. I guess there’s not another crossing until you get to U.S. 378.”
County Controller Lynden Anthony, who was also a part of those meetings, also lamented the news of the bridge’s closure.
“The trail organization is aware of the issue and what has transpired as a result of the structural integrity study that was done,” Anthony said. “I would imagine, of course, that the trail will have to be moved.”
Anthony said the county looking to a Transportation Alternatives Program grant with the Department of Transportation in March. The grant would have provided funds to beautify the bridge and make it a “park-like” atmosphere, Anthony said.
“That would bring it in line with the plans that the conservation group had for the area,” he said.
DOT, he noted, decided to do a structural integrity study as a result of the county’s interest in applying for the grant.
“Of course, word came back that the engineers who performed that analysis said the on-site review had deemed the bridge as unsafe,” Anthony said. “That’s when we were informed of their plans to put barricades up for the eclipse.”
Anthony said that he and Stewart, however, had no ideas about the bridge closing permanently.
“That was a complete shock,” he said. “I don’t know what form that barricade will take, but I know pedestrians won’t be able to get over it, around it or through it.”
Gant said Friday that the barricade would include fencing.
“Right now, we have barricades on each end,” he said. “We’re going to put some fencing up to prohibit people from walking through on each side,”
Stewart said he hopes Summerton, the county, Orangeburg County and Santee can work together to find some type of funding to fix the dilapidated bridge.
“We would have to do that in conjunction with those other jurisdictions,” said Stewart.
However, Anthony said that any such project would have to get DOT approval.
“DOT owns the bridge,” he said. “Unless they fund it themselves, they would have to allow such a project.”