DOT affirms commitment to replace the Don Holt

On the heels of the devastating collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore that killed six people in March, the South Carolina Department of Transportation affirmed its plans to replace the aging Don Holt Bridge spanning across the Cooper River with a wider and taller structure. 
The replacement bridge, between North Charleston and Daniel Island, is projected to have a clearance of 186 feet above the water, allowing bigger ships to travel in and out of the North Charleston terminal.
The current bridge, built in 1992, stands 155 feet above water and limits the passage of cargo vessels to those ships holding 8,000, 20-foot containers or less. 
Yet, more modern ships can carry twice as much.
“Modernizing the terminal, raising the Don Holt Bridge, deepening the Cooper River, and purchasing the former WestRock property are all critical components that will yield a state-of-the-art North Charleston Terminal,” State Ports Authority President Barbara Melvin said in a March 19 announcement.
The State Ports Authority recently announced the purchase of the WestRock paper mill in North Charleston to support its expansion of the nearby terminal, and raising a replacement bridge would further enhance the ports’ ability to attract bigger cargo ships. 
The roughly $4 billion plan to replace the Don Holt is part of a bigger $8 billion dollar project called the I-526 Lowcountry Corridor that would see a massive overhaul to the 23-mile connection of roads and bridges linking West Ashley to Mount Pleasant. 
“The project is currently in the very early stages,” said Kelly Moore, DOT’s public engagement director. “We expect the next steps, including a major public involvement initiative, to begin in the 2030s. After the next phase begins, we expect to have a better construction timeline to share.”
With reviews and permitting estimated to start sometime in the next decade, many questions regarding the actual cost, who will pay for it, and the design plans of the bridge are still undecided, according to Moore.
Moore emphasized that at this early stage, it’s premature to finalize maintenance plans outlining how roads will look during the interim period leading up to construction.
But transportation officials, at this point, do have nine potential design options in the running, including one early plan that would have one bridge with eight travel lanes and a bike and pedestrian path, and another option proposing two separate four-lane bridges.
In an effort to expand the lanes and accommodate Charleston’s growing traffic, the new bridge could be much like the Ravenel Bridge, with enhanced safety measures put in place.
SCDOT public information officer Hannah Robinson reassured Charleston drivers that the Ravenel Bridge has an “elaborate system” of protection and that it was designed to withstand a high level of impact, including the loss of cables.
According to Robinson, the existing Don Holt Bridge already has protective measures that surround the bridge, designed for the type of cargo traffic that travels through the channel.
“We would expect that as we move to replace the Don Holt in the near future, we would adopt similar safety measures to what is in place on the Ravenel,” she said. “We anticipate this [new bridge] will be a larger, higher structure that will be in alignment with Ravenel and support the continued growth of our port.”

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