Part of I-95 reopens; hundreds of SC roads, bridges still out

Road conditions are improving by the day in South Carolina, but hundreds of bridges and roads remained impassable Monday, eight days after historic rains and floods devastated much of the Midlands.

The southbound lanes of Interstate 95, a major north-south corridor along the Eastern Seaboard, reopened Monday. However, the northbound lanes remained closed in the Florence area as S.C. Department of Transportation officials worked to shore up bridges.

“We originally sent 200 truckloads of concrete (for I-95’s northbound lanes), but we’ve had to add 70 truckloads to that,” said Gov. Nikki Haley at her noon briefing Monday.

As of noon Monday, 322 roads across the state were deemed impassable – a figure that included 98 bridges, according to the Transportation Department.

In some cases, road closings imposed major hardships.

In Richland County, the Richland 1 school district remained closed, in part, because of roads out in the Lower Richland area. More than half of the district’s 23,000 students ride the bus to and from school. School officials don’t know when the roads will be safe enough for buses but they hope to reopen later this week.

Richland 1 runs more than 675 different school bus routes to elementary, middle and high schools, superintendent Craig Witherspoon at a press conference. At least 29 impassable roads and bridges are on routes that school buses usually take, but officials have been scouting for alternatives.

“We have to make sure those routes have been checked,” Witherspoon said. “The impact of the roads are across the school system; it’s not just isolated to particular areas.”

Some 111 roads and bridges remained impassable Monday in Richland County, perhaps the state’s hardest hit, in part because of more than a dozen broken dams.

The blockages include major commuter corridors, such as the bridge over Gills Creek in the low-lying area where Devine Street changes to Garners Ferry Road at Fort Jackson Boulevard and Rosewood Drive.

State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, who lives in Hopkins, said numerous parents are having to stay home with their children, babysitting them since they can’t get to school.

Other parents can’t get to work because the dirt roads that lead from secondary roads to their homes have been washed out, Neal said. Those dirt roads are not included on any official count of washed-out roads, Neal said.

In neighboring Lexington County, County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said some 85 roads and bridges in his area remain impassable. But that is better than the 205 closures reported last week, he said.

Local residents appear to be coping with the detours and longer travel times, Jeffcoat said.

He added he couldn’t begin to estimate how much it will cost to repair all the damage.

“This is massive. I don’t know how much it will be, but it will run into the millions and millions of dollars,” Jeffcoat said. “To get us back normal, it’s going to be awhile.”

A major Lexington commuter corridor, off I-77 to the 12th Street extension in Cayce, still is partially blocked by high waters, Jeffcoat said. That route leads to Amazon, SCANA and Nephron Pharmaceuticals, which combined employ thousands.

Many workers at those businesses use Interstate 77 to go to work but that exit is closed due to flooding, Jeffcoat said. Instead, many commuters are traveling over to I-26 and using Old Wire Road to get to Amazon, SCANA and Nephron, he said.