TREASURE ISLAND — Construction of the Isle of Palms bridge, one of two bridges involved in a $4 million replacement project, will soon be under way.
The work will begin in about two weeks with a lane closure on the south side of the structure and traffic funneled to one lane on the north side, said Jim Murphy, public works director. The Isle of Capri bridge work began in early February with the replacement of pilings and traffic diverted to one northbound lane.
"It was a little rough at first for people getting used to the traffic pattern," Murphy said. "We expect there will be a learning curve for Isle of Palms too."
Both bridges are expected to be completed in November. Funding for the project came from a special property tax residents approved in 2011, which also paid for the recent $1.2 million beach walk improvements.
The bridges, built in the 1950s, were in bad shape with substandard features that needed updating, Murphy said. The new bridges will have wider traffic lanes and 5-foot wide sidewalks on both sides with an extra buffer lane that will make it safe for bike and pedestrian traffic, he said.
"They had an antiquated design and the load grading wasn't good enough," he said. "When the new bridges are done, they will be equated to any highway rated bridge."
Residents say the bridge replacements are a necessary evil.
"It's a pain," said former City Commissioner Gail Caldwell, president of the Isle of Palms Civic Association. "We will just have to live through it."
But Caldwell has been pleased at how well officials from the city and the engineering firm Johnson Brothers have communicated details about the project to residents. A meeting was held in November to discuss the process and temporary traffic adjustments.
"They are very sensitive to it and seem flexible to making adjustments when problems arise," she said.
Caldwell is worried that with the Isle of Palms bridge so close to Gulf Boulevard, the one-lane traffic will possibly cause a backup on the major north-south artery.
But Murphy said when construction starts, he and Johnson Brothers representatives will be monitoring the traffic flow and will make adjustments if needed. There will be traffic signals on both sides of the Isle of Palms bridge that are timed to the Gulf Boulevard light at 112th Avenue to prevent backups.
Dominique Reiter, president of the Isle of Capri Civic Association, said the construction has been "a slight inconvenience but we are going to have a beautiful new bridge when it's finished."
She came up with the idea of selling brick pavers as memorials on the bridge walkways. The first phase of 50 pavers is almost sold out, Reiter said. For $100, residents have the option of using five lines to pen a remembrance.
Murphy doesn't have an exact date yet for the Isle of Palms construction to begin and although Caldwell believes residents are prepared for the changes to come, she isn't ruling out human nature taking over.
"When people are stuck in traffic, all bets are off," she said.