|Narrative history of Big Money Opening Day: II
||[Jul. 20th, 2005|07:52 pm]
You Big Dummy
The Pearman climbs 135 feet over Town Creek, dips underneath the new Ravenel bridge, and turns right, whence it rises again to the Cooper River span, 150 feet above MHT. Then it deposits the driver hard on the eastern bank of the estuary, where he has two options: exit into downtown Mt. Pleasant, or take the bypass. We took the bypass, crossing over a small viaduct. Years ago, this small overpass was the highest point half a mile ashore from the bridges, but now it is literally shadowed by the approach ramps of the new bridge. The reason for this is that the Ravenel bridge was built under newer standards calling for a less steep roadway, and the roadway rises to a higher point above water anyway.|
So that complicated things on the ground for us. The old road had actually moved--replaced with temporary pavement to avoid work being done on the final ramp to the bridge, which should be finished in two months but is not urgent. We turned about in a Holiday Inn parking lot and once again rose above the river, this time courtesy of the Grace bridge.
The Grace was built and owned by a private corporation, Cooper River Bridge, Inc., as part of an effort to promote the islands north and east of Charleston as resorts. The fifty-cent toll for car and driver was not just for profit, but for funding maintenance of the bridge, having no taxpayer dollars to work with. The bridge was opened in August 1929, directly before a time when not many folks could afford to spend time at a luxury resort--much less own a car. At the same time, ferries were still plying the harbor, and charged less. So money was tight from the beginning. At first, scheduled maintenance projects like painting and minor repairs were half-assed or simply skipped, in order to save money, but this didn't stop the company from going bankrupt in 1935. Eleven years later the bridge was bought by the state and the tolls were removed, but already by then the Grace Bridge was, well, obsolete, having only two lanes and insanely sttep grades (almost 18 feet per up per hundred yards forward). Thus the Pearman.
On this Opening Day the Grace bridge wasn't easy on the eye. For years people had been wondering aloud how such a rusty hulk, built on the cheap and poorly maintained, could still stand. Three-quarters of a century earlier the bridge was adored and revered as an engineering marvel. Ten years ago the bridge was examined and, on a hundred-point scale, was rated a four. That report, more than any other one thing, provided the impetus to building a new bridge.
Crossing the bridge gets more adventurous every year, as cars get bigger and the narrow lanes on the bridge do not. I didn't straddle the lane markers, but damn near scraped the railing. The crossing seems to me more depressing each time, too. The bridge just seems to get rustier and dirtier and fewer people seem to care about it. And once the bridge ends, you have to deal with the labyrinth of the Septima Clark again. this time partially from street level. So the journey doesn't have much of a reward, nor does it seem as much fun anymore. That was on my mind the last time I crossed the Grace bridge.
We weren't the only ones trying to get in one last crossing, maybe developing one last story. I thought traffic would have been thick, as much as Charlestonians love the past, but it just seemed another Saturday morning on the bridges. Still, there were stories of folks crosing eight times or more, taking plenty of rolls of pictures. But whereas before the bridges dominated the skyline and provided an unobstructed view, the eyes of every driver in the past several months--including my own--were more interested in seeing the brand-new bridge being built right next door.