Cypress Gardens feeling financial pinch of bridge outage

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCIV) - Transportation officials say the construction of a new bridge in Berkeley County is a month ahead of schedule, but one business in the area says it's seen a 15 percent decrease in admissions while the bridge is impassable.

Not much has changed at Cypress Gardens. The site is just as beautiful has it always has been, but park management says fewer people are going out to visit since the Cypress Gardens bridge collapsed four months ago.

"We've had a decrease in traffic and then a lot of our volunteers, we've had a decrease in that, too," said Heather Graham, the manager of Cypress Gardens.

In April, a CSX trail derailed and caused the bridge to collapse. Officials with the Department of Transportation said it would take $3 million and 180 days to fix.

Meanwhile, drivers are being detoured 22 miles around the fallen bridge to the other side.

Graham says the journey is driving away the gardens' business.

"This is our first year we were going to have a summer camp and um, unfortunately a lot of people didn't want to travel all the way out here for 5 days. So, we were not able to have the camp," said Graham. "Our revenues have probably decreased about 10 to 15 percent. We don't know the exact number yet but that's what we're estimating right now."

Grahams says they get about 20 calls a day from lost drivers.

"One of our employees actually drew a map and so, no matter where somebody is at in Charleston or if they are at the bridge, we can talk them completely all the way here," Graham said.

Park management uses the Cypress Gardens website and Facebook account as a mechanism to publicize the detour map. They also leave a stack of about 50 maps along the detour route to help guide would-be visitors to the park.

"We replenish them constantly," said Graham. "But, it has a coupon on it for $1 off because we know that once they get to that bridge, they're going to have to make that 22-mile detour."

There is a silver lining. DOT officials say the bridge replacement project is running a month ahead of schedule. DOT originally set an Oct. 25 deadline.

The contractors have set a personal goal to finish the bridge by the end of September. The crew hopes to pour asphalt and test the ride quality of the new bridge next week.