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Repairing the bridges of Kershaw County - Part 1 of 2

Some state-owned bridges moving to the head of the line

Posted: August 12, 2014 8:45 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

A bridge crosses over the Little Flat Rock Creek on McDowell Road in rural Kershaw County. The bridge, between Flat Rock Road and U.S. 521, is one of 90 slated for replacement under a special federal aid program by the S.C. Department of Transportation. Currently, the bridge is load restricted to 5 tons per axle and 7 tons gross.


Drive about 20 miles north of Camden on Flat Rock Road and turn right onto McDowell Road. A little ways down -- a couple of tenths of a mile, maybe -- and the road crosses Little Flat Rock Creek. Not everyone can cross the bridge there, however. Sign posted at both ends of the bridge read “Load Notice: Weight Limit 5 tons per axle, 7 tons gross.”

To some, the bridge might be considered out in the middle of nowhere, but McDowell Road leads from Flat Rock Road to Damascus Church Road, which then intersects to the east with U.S. 521 just south of Westville. That makes the seemingly innocuous and relatively uncrossed bridge an important connector. Important enough, apparently, to make it one of only 90 bridges to be placed on a list for replacement as part of a special state-federal program funded under S.C. Act 98.

It is the only such bridge in Kershaw County, although not the only one the state or Kershaw County are looking to fix or replace.

Bridge repair and replacement started to rise higher in both federal and local government eyes following collapse of a bridge on I-35 in Minneapolis, Minn. Aug. 1 marked the seventh anniversary of that collapse, which took place during that evening’s rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring another 145. According to news reports following the collapse, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board cited a design flaw as the likely cause and that additional weight on the bridge contributed to its “catastrophic failure.”

There are no bridges in Kershaw County that compare to the I-35 bridge that collapsed seven years ago. However, there are many bridges of various sizes throughout the county. Some are state-owned, maintained by the state of South Carolina through a mix of state and federal funds. Others are county-owned bridges and therefore -- whenever the county has funds to do so -- are maintained by Kershaw County.

In this two-part series, the Chronicle-Independent is looking first at state-owned bridges that are either in need of, or are in the process of being, repaired or replaced by the state of South Carolina. In the second part of this series, we will look at county-owned bridges that are prioritized by need, but as of yet have no funding for repair or replacement.

Repairing more bridges

According to Governing magazine, the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient” has declined in the seven years since the I-35 bridge collapse. An article published June 4 stated that the number of such bridges has declined by 14 percent during the last six years, but that one in every 10 bridges across the country is still considered structurally deficient.

A “structurally deficient” bridge is one that had “deterioration of one or more major components, but is not unsafe.” A higher classification is “functionally obsolete” bridges, which “were built using outdated standards, such as older design features.”

According to the magazine’s research, based on statistics compiled from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration’s (FHA) National Bridge Inventory, South Carolina had a total of 9,221 state-maintained bridges in 2007, with 1,297 listed as structurally deficient. That number dropped by 19.2 percent by 2013. In 2013, South Carolina had a total of 9,275 state-owned bridges, but only 1,048 of them were deemed structurally deficient.

South Carolina’s numbers are mixed when looking at both structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in comparison with total U.S. statistics. According to a similar set of data from FHA that Governing magazine looked at, the percentage of structurally deficient bridges in South Carolina stands at 11.3 percent, compared to 10.5 percent nationally. However, South Carolina has a far better percentage of functionally obsolete bridges: 9.4 percent compared to a U.S. figure of 13.9 percent.

Both in South Carolina and across the country, the number of deficient bridges is going down, according to Governing magazine, because, for the most part, states are fixing or replacing more of them. South Carolina, for example, is doing so by appropriating additional funds, thanks to a federal match.

Act 98 and Kershaw County

S.C. Act 98 of 2013 appropriated $50 million to the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) for a number of bridge repair and replacement and road resurfacing projects. According to SCDOT’s Act 98 page on its website, the one-time $50 million appropriation is a state match for a federal-aid bridge program. The state received $250 million in federal aid to repair or replace the 90 bridges on the Act 98 list, according to SCDOT spokesman Pete Poore, including the one on McDowell Road over Little Flat Rock Creek.

Poore explained that there is an additional benefit to the Act 98 money.

“Because Act 98 will cover those load-restricted (and) closed bridges, money is freed up for our regular federal replacement program. Bridges on that (other) list will move up faster because Act 98 gets to those other 90 bridges first,” Poore said.

The McDowell Road bridge is ranked eighth in SCDOT’s Engineering District One, meaning there are seven other Act 98 projects in the district -- which includes Kershaw, Lee, Lexington, Richland and Sumter counties -- ahead of that project. District One received an $8.5 million allotment for 13 projects. One is located in Lee County, eight in Sumter County, one in Lexington County and two in Richland County.

Poore said the McDowell Road bridge is on the Act 98 list specifically because it is both state-owned and load restricted. Some Act 98 bridges are closed completely.

While there is no start date listed, a letting -- request for bids -- is set for September with a completion date of Jan. 31, 2016.

“The bridge will be a modern American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials design loading which all states use and, therefore, it will exceed all S.C. state legal loads,” Poore said.

He said that SCDOT cannot release an expected cost for the project in order not to prejudice the bidding process.

Other state bridges

With the 90 bridges on the Act 98 list, including the one on McDowell Road, other state projects for repair or replacement can move up on other lists of projects overseen by SCDOT. One such program is the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP. STIP includes bridge projects, as well as paving and road reconstruction, as well as system upgrade projects. For example, improvements to Camden’s proposed approved truck route along Ehrenclou Drive, Chesnut Ferry Road Ext., Springdale Drive, Boykin Road and York Street, are all part of a STIP-funded project.

There are two STIP-funded bridge projects marked for Kershaw County. One is in the northern part of the county on Lockhart Road as it crosses Lynches River, several miles north of North Central High School. That project will begin Sept. 1 and last into August 2015, according to a notice on the Kershaw County government website. During that 12-month period, the bridge will be replaced and, therefore, closed to traffic.

“Detour routes will be clearly marked with signage and barricades posted for the traveling public,” the notice states.

The project is officially known on SCDOT documents as “Little Lynches River Overflow (2),” and is given a bridge replacement (BR) ranking of 98. It will cost $3.78 million to complete, money set aside during Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.

The other STIP-funded bridge program will, perhaps, be of a larger scale and although it will start later but is not a replacement.

SCDOT intends to rehabilitate the Doc Humphries Road bridge over I-20 at Exit 101. $27,000 worth of planning funds are earmarked for FY 2015, with construction funds in an amount of $936,000 set aside for FY 2017.

In addition to the two STIP program bridges, there are two others SCDOT has slated for replacement, according to a press release issued July 16. The bridges -- two of 12 announced for replacement by the end of June 2015 -- are on Watson Street at 25 Mile Creek near Elgin and Mt. Zion Road at Big Pine Tree the Cassatt area.

“According to SCDOT, the replacement of the bridges is necessary due to structural deficiencies,” the release stated. “Further notification of closure dates for each bridge will be sent out closer to the beginning of construction.”

Poore said these two bridges will be replaced with state funding.

(Coming in Part 2: of 21 county-owned bridges that cross bodies of water in Kershaw County, 19 need some level of repair, or even replacement. The question is, can the county afford to pay for any of the projects?)



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