Wando bridge workers, senator voiced construction fears in 1989

posted by Anne Emerson, WCIV - 

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“It’s been one screw-up after another."

Former state senator Ernie Passailaigue said that about construction of the Mark Clark Expressway, including the Wando bridge. all the way back in 1989.

Then a freshman senator, Passailaigue is now retired on the Isle of Palms. He says he wasn't surprised at all to hear of the latest bridge problems May 14, when the S.C. Dept. of Transportation announced a four-week closure of the westbound James B. Edwards Bridge over the Wando River on I-526.

DOT officials say they've closed the bridge for emergency repairs after discovering one of eight main support cables used to stabilize the bridge was broken, nearly two years after damage to another main cable was repaired.

The DOT says a secondary cable is also being replaced during the bridge closure, and another showed signs damage. DOT engineers haven't given a definitive cause for the cable failures and damage, but say their is evidence of corrosion in the bridge's inner workings attributed to water intrusion.

”They said this is going to be a problem one day,” Sen. Passailaigue said Monday,

Nearly 30 years ago, Passailaigue says several construction workers on the Mark Clark Expressway project came to him with horror stories of shoddy workmanship in the name of saving time and money.

“They were under intense pressure to get the project to move forward," Sen. Passailaigue says construction workers told him. “They told me how things were done correctly and done incorrectly, and they were saying this rush to get this stuff done was not good long term for this bridge."

One example Passailaigue gave is reports from workers of watered-down concrete. Passailaigue says workers told him they were told to pour extra water into hot concrete to cool it rapidly so it would set more quickly, compromising the material's integrity.

"They didn’t think it would collapse or structurally be a problem immediately. They thought, you know, some day the chickens were going to come home to roost," Passailaigue added.

They were ominous warnings that Passailaigue took to the state's highway commission.

"It’s being poured to standards. Don’t worry about any of this. It will be OK," the senator says he was told.

But the senator said he knew there was no reason for those workers to lie. He believed them then, and says he still does.

Transportation secretary Christy Hall says she is aware that there are reports of ignored problems with the bridge dating back years. She's ordered a task force to investigate and report back in about a week.

The bridge is supposed to be back open June 11, one day before South Carolina primary elections.

Lanes on the eastbound side of the Wando Bridge have been converted to two-way traffic, with one eastbound lane reversed to accommodate westbound traffic.

Detours remain in place along Highway 17 south to I-26, and Highway 17 north to S.C. 41 and Clements Ferry Road.

CARTA has revised its routes to help better alleviate traffic congestion caused by the bridge closure.

(ABC News 4's Drew Tripp contributed information to this report).

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