Bridges have been a hot topic around town lately, and for good reason. A network of bridges connect the towns and neighborhoods in the Charleston area, and each has its own quirks. “Quirks” include a tendency to back up during rush hours or holidays, closures to swing open for boats, frequent minor accidents, and white-knuckle driving in high winds.
If you are retired or work at home, the bridge that links you with the rest of Charleston might not affect you too much. However, if you have to cross a bridge for work, or to see friends, family or for hobbies, you most certainly want take bridges into consideration when choosing a neighborhood.
Let’s start with the big one – The Ravenel. This mighty cable-stay bridge spans The Reach between Mount Pleasant and the downtown Charleston peninsula. The bridge doesn’t close for high winds anymore, but when winds reach sustained 40 mph the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center issues a warning that travel over the bridge isn’t safe. That means if you get in trouble on the bridge under these warnings no emergency personnel will come get you. How often does Charleston get 40 mph winds? Even a minor tropical storm can produce winds up to 60 mph, so several times a year.
The bridge does close during ice storms when falling ice from the spans can be extremely dangerous. The bridge also closes for half a day once a year for the Cooper River Bridge Run.
The Wando Bridge is actually a pair of pre-cast post-tensioned concrete box girder bridges that span the Wando River, connecting Mount Pleasant to Daniel Island. As you probably know, one of the cables failed inside the box girder in May, and one of the bridges closed for several weeks. The closure wrecked havoc on traffic, causing backups that lasted for hours, day after day. The future of the bridge is uncertain, but speculation is high that needs replacing. Of all the bridges in Charleston, the Wando is the least fun to drive in high winds due to the low height of the concrete sidewalls. Even if you don’t live on Daniel Island or beyond, this bridge is a main part of the evacuation (and re-entry) route.
The Don Holt Bridge is a truss bridge that spans the Cooper River to connect Charleston and North Charleston. This bridge also doesn’t close in high winds but falls under the same warning parameters as the Ravenel. The Don Holt is known for backing up during rush hour traffic, and minor traffic accidents are frequent. It is also a main part of Charleston’s evacuation route.
The Ashley River Bridge is a Bascule drawbridge that spans the Ashley River, connecting the peninsula to West Ashley. (The original bridge was struck and destroyed by a ship in 1955, an event that locals still talk about.) The drawbridge is in operation from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and stops traffic to open whenever a boat radios the operator. That means you could get stuck waiting on the bridge if you commute to or from West Ashley.
Once you’re over the Ashley, you may also have to wait on the Wappoo Creek drawbridge that connects West Ashley to James Island as well. Part of the Intracoastal Waterway, this is a busy drawbridge that can open for boats every half hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
Isle of Palms Connector
This bridge spans the marsh between Mount Pleasant and Isle of Palms. It is a low, two-lane bridge with pedestrian and bicycle lanes. On holidays and summer weekends, beach traffic can back up to Highway 17. Because of the beautiful marsh views, rear-ending accidents are frequent on this bridge, which can slow or stop traffic.
If you’re considering a home on Isle of Palms (such as Wild Dunes) in high tourist season you’ll have to brave extremely heavy traffic to get to Mount Pleasant, or anywhere beyond.
Ben Sawyer Bridge
The Ben Sawyer Bridge is a swing bridge that connects Mount Pleasant with Sullivan’s Island. The bridge spans the Intracostal Waterway and has a complicated (and busy) opening schedule. The bridge was knocked off its axis by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 (before the Isle of Palms Connector existed), making the island inaccessible except by boat. In summer, beach traffic can back up past Rifle Range Road in Mount Pleasant. If you’re considering a house on Sullivan’s Island, you’ll have to be a patient driver in high season.
There are several more bridges in the Charleston area, so it pays to scope them out in your prospective neighborhood.