South Carolina is looking at the possibility of reopening the old Francis Marion Bridge over Lake Marion to pedestrian traffic.
"It is a source of recreation for the people in that area. It also provides access for fishing and it is a cross-over portion of the Palmetto Trail. There are a lot of reasons to get that bridge functional,” said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
The bridge was built in 1946 and closed to traffic in 1987. It was open to the foot and bicycle traffic until it was officially closed in 2017 prior to the solar eclipse.
Inspectors determined the 1.85-mile bridge had a lot of cracks in the concrete and the substructure. The bridge's beams were also deteriorated, requiring steel saddles as a temporary repair.
The current rails of the bridge also do not meet the national standards required for a pedestrian bridge, according to the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Also, U.S. Coast Guard has requested the bridge be removed by 2020 because the piers don't align with the new Francis Marion Bridge and WJ Gooding Bridge, thus creating a navigation hazard.
Hutto says he favors finding a short-term, cost effective way to have the bridge reopened or at opening the Clarendon County side to give hikers and bikers a chance to walk a mile.
He noted the bridge does not need to be repaired to the state where can handle the weight of vehicular traffic.
"We just want to make sure it is safe for pedestrians and bikers," he said.
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This year’s state budget includes a “bridge stabilization and repair” proviso directing SCDOT and Santee Cooper to jointly develop a detailed plan and cost estimate for stabilizing the bridge for public pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
"We have to see what the cost is," Hutto said.
The project will be based on a Palmetto Conservation Foundation study of the possibility of using the bridge as a connector route for the Palmetto Trail.
SCDOT and Santee Cooper have been asked to include input from Orangeburg County; the City of Santee; Santee Cooper Counties Promotion Commission; the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; Clarendon County; the city of Summerton and the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.
A group of the stakeholders are working to meet with SCDOT and Santee Cooper to begin determining the cost involved in reopening the bridge between the town of Santee and Clarendon County across Lake Marion.
A public meeting is scheduled for Monday Oct. 21 to discuss the project. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the Santee Conference Center.
Hutto says he is all for looking at fixes, such as making sure the pilings are secure or perhaps the construction of a suspension bridge.
A number of avenues will be looked at to fund the reopening of the bridge, including grants, private donations and federal and state funds.
Longer term, Hutto said SCDOT is in the early stages of talking about building a new Interstate 95 bridge. The existing one is over 50 years old.
Hutto said he has been in discussions with SCDOT about including a bike and pedestrian path on a new bridge.