At long last: Ravenel Bridge completely reopens to traffic

MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - The Ravenel Bridge -- at least one lane of the bridge -- was reopened around 4:20 p.m. Friday afternoon after being closed almost all day because of ice falling from the cables.

Or maybe it wasn't.

There were differing reports from officials at the base of the bridge and by police on Twitter. Officers moving barrels out of the roadway said it was open to one lane, but other officials on Twitter said it was not.{}

However, just moments later, it opened fully to traffic.

Well, the southbound lanes opened. City of Charleston police said they would wait 15 minutes while cars from Mount Pleasant to Charleston traveled the bridge. If no ice fell, then the northbound lanes would be opened.{}

A short time later, all lanes of the bridge were open again.

State Department of Transportation officials said they had hoped to reopen the Ravenel Bridge again by rush hour on Friday.

However, the DOT's James Law said he still saw ice on the cables that support the bridge just 40 minutes from the estimated time to reopen it, so he was not sure they would hit that time.

Law said no one at the DOT was surprised by the ice melting, but they did not expect it to be as bad as it has been. With at least a dozen people filing claims with their insurance companies over ice damage, Law said he had no idea who was liable for the damage - the driver, the city, or the transportation department. {}

"I saw one long piece of ice, I guess about 8 or10 feet long falling from the top then hit on the bridge top. Right after that, the car that was just ahead of me in the left lane was hit considerable with agiant chunk of ice," said Tom Sexton.

Sexton says he was looking in the distance towardsCharleston when the ice hit.{}

"It was a couple seconds later and it was like a littleexplosion went off," he said.

Consolidated dispatch officials say one person was taken to a nearby hospital after ice shattered their windshield and put glass in their eyes.{}

Police said the closure was due to large sheets of ice falling from the diamonds causing damage to cars. ABC News 4 has already talked to a few people who have had ice fall from the bridge and damage their cars.

Lt. Commander Derek Beatty with the U.S. Coast Guard said they were notified about the closure of the bridge to car traffic, but decided against closing it to boat traffic.{}Beatty said early Friday afternoon that the Coast Guard had not heard from any concerned boaters about falling ice and have no plans to close the area to boat traffic.

The Ravenel Bridge only opened Thursday afternoon around 3:15 p.m. after being closed two days due to icy conditions on the bridge from the winter storm.


Without the bridge, traffic backs up everywhere else

Officers are diverting traffic and the public is being asked to take an alternate route.

According to Charleston County School District officials, six buses cover 12 routes that travel the Ravenel Bridge daily. Officials said parents need to expect their children to be late because the buses will be taking the Don Holt Bridge to get to and from Mount Pleasant.{}

Officials did not have information on which schools were affected by the bridge closure.

CARTA officials issued a rider alert soon after. "Due to the closure of the Ravenel Bridge, Rt. 40 & 41 are detouring on to the Don Holt Bridge, expect delays."

As a result of the bridge closure, traffic on the Don Holt Bridge started backing up almost immediately.

According to state Sen. Larry Grooms, this is the first time the DOT has had to deal with ice problems since the bridge was opened nine years ago. He said they will have to learn from this experience and apply those lessons to future winter storms.{}

Even though the bridge reopened for people trying to make it home Friday evening, the damage to the traffic around the city was done. There were several wrecks on Interstate 26 and backups on the Don Holt Bridge.

Even on the Ravenel Bridge there were problems. Just moments after the roadway was opened, dispatch officials said there was a hit-and-run accident. No one was injured.

Hundreds waited in a parking lot off Meeting Street for a closed Ravenel Bridge to re-open. Mount Pleasant residents likeRussell Long say the closed bridge made the minutes before rush hour tense.{}

"When you jam up truck and cars and people leaving work ona Friday, they need to get somewhere, they might not even known the bridge wasstill closed. That's just a lot of pressure to have on a road way on a Fridaynight," Long said.



How does the North handle its cable bridges?

In Boston, the Zakim Memorial Bridge bears a remarkably similar appearance to Charleston's Ravenel Bridge - but transportation officials there say ice is not an issue.

According to one official, Boston has never experienced anything like the ice problems Charleston dealt with over the past week even though the city is usually hit by dozens of winter storms every year.

Chief Meteorologist Dave Williams says part of the reason is because northern cities don't get freezing rain, which means they don't see the kind of ice build-up Charleston has seen this week. That combined with the rapidly changing weather of the Lowcountry creates a different kind of scenario, he said.

Massachusetts DOT officials say they usually post signs at either ends of the Zakim bridge warning people of the dangers.

He did say one option would be to install something like cable warmers to prevent icing, but described that solution as both expensive and excessive.


'You could tell people were panicking'

ABC News 4 Photojournalist Josh Braunreuther was one of the last people driving across the bridge as officials were closing it down. "There were huge, huge blocks of ice falling down everywhere," he said. He also said he wondered if his windshield was going to break as ice hit his station SUV.

There were nine calls placed to 911 about ice falling off the bridge and damaging their cars.

I'm at the Cooper River Bridge at Morrison Drive. I just been hit by a large piece of ice and blew out my windshield. I got ice everywhere and glass inside of my truck," said one man.

"I'm on the Ravenel bridge headed downtown and there's ice falling off the bridge and it shattered my windshield," said another caller.

One of the people whose cars were hit by the ice was Joe Riley III, the son of Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.{} One driver said she considered taking I-526, but chose the Ravenel and regretted it as ice hit the road around her as she drove across. SCDOT inspectors are on scene trying to determine how long before the ice is gone and the bridge can be opened back up. Robin Morrisey with the American Heart Association witnessed as ice fell and damaged an SUV. "Large sheets of ice were coming from the cables," she said. "You could tell people were panicking a little bit...It was coming down in huge sheets and once it hit it would shatter and hit people's cars." Witnesses said some cars were so damaged b falling ice that they will have to be towed. Kay Hyman with the Charleston Animal Society was also on her way to Mount Pleasant on the bridge when ice began to fall. "It was like a sci-fi movie," she said. "I did see it hit a couple of cars and I was like 'Please don't hit our Subaru!' It was pretty intense."

Sexton said he will have his windshield replaced, but he's just happy to walk away from the accident.{}

"I was very fortunate. I thank God it wasn't anythingworse. When I first saw the giant piece falling from above it looked likesomeone could get impaled," Sexton said.{}

Sexton says his windshield will be replaced for free, butthe damage to his roof he may leave if the deductible is too expensive.{}


Who is responsible for the damage?

Attorney David Aylor says there is a possibility of civil lawsuits stemming from the ice damage Friday, depending on what is covered by the drivers' insurance policies.

Aylor says those drivers crossed the bridge Friday morning with the expectation that everything was okay in terms of the bridge being safe to cross. Under those circumstances, the drivers believe the people involved with opening the bridge did everything correctly, he said.

Aylor said Friday that only time would tell if everything was done correctly to safely open the bridge, but damage coverage will depend a lot on the policies each driver holds.

"If you didn't have coverage or it went above and beyond just being your hood being dented or the top of your car, then you could look again to some of potential civil liability," he said.

That means those drivers may have to wait on a DOT report to see if anything could have been prevented. They will have to check with their insurance companies to find out what is covered.

If a lawsuit happens, there will be an investigation into the choice to reopen the bridge.

"They're going to look to whoever was actually giving the go-ahead, saying that it is safe to drive on these roads or the bridges in this situation. And then from there if something did occur, really putting it back on them," Aylor said.

The first step for those drivers is to check with their insurers and get an appraisal of the damage.


Political iciness begins while traffic is halted on bridge

"While Charleston County spends its third day stuck in traffic, Nikki Haley is bragging about storm response," tweeted Rep. Leon Stavrinakis Friday afternoon, which kicked of a conversation of who is responsible for the current bridge struggle.

"Please show some leadership and get our bridge open," he said in another tweet.

Some people responded to Stavrinakis, claiming he was politicizing a weather situation, to which Stavrinakis responded that it wasn't politics but a concern for people who were able to travel the bridge at one point, but can't even though it's 60 degrees.

"No one wants an unsafe bridge open, but the bridge should be safe and open by now," he told someone else.

His office released a statement after the bridge reopened and it was revealed that one of the DOT's top officials had been arrested and charged with driving under the influence.{}

"I am disappointed to learn that the Governor's appointed leader of SCDOT was caught drunk driving this morning instead of working to ensure that the Ravenel Bridge was safe and ready for traffic today, two days after the winter storm ended. Instead drivers were put at great risk of injury and tens of thousands more inconvenienced. This lack of leadership and accountability are flat out unacceptable. Clearly the people of Charleston County and taxpayers across South Carolina are entitled to some answers," he said. {}

St. Onge resigned Friday, citing personal reasons.

Gov. Nikki Haley notified legislative leaders in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that Christy Hall will be acting secretary until she finds a permanent replacement.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres says St. Onge was stopped about 8 a.m. Friday on Interstate 20. Beres says a breath test at the Lexington County jail registered his blood-alcohol level at 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal threshold.

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