Beaufort swing bridge opened, but wouldn't close

BEAUFORT -- Traffic in and around downtown Beaufort was snarled Wednesday after a broken gear box on the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge broke at about 1:15 p.m. and forced the swing bridge to close to motorists.

It reopened at about 4:30 p.m. -- just in time for rush hour -- after the State Department of Transportation declared it safe for ground traffic.

"It's not repaired. We've got it temporarily shored up," said DOT resident maintenance engineer Curtis Brice. "It's safe for traffic."

But it's unclear when the span -- one of two connecting Lady's Island to Port Royal Island -- will reopen to boat traffic.

The extent of the damage to the gear box, which broke as the bridge operator tried to open the span to let boats pass, is unknown, Brice said. The operator will not attempt to open the bridge again until the DOT consults the U.S. Coast Guard today to work out a new schedule for openings.

The bridge is supposed to open on the hour and half hour, except between 7 and 9 a.m. and 4 and 6 p.m., when it does not open for boat traffic, according to operator Allen Purvis.

The incident recalled one in April 2007 when the J.E. McTeer Bridge was struck and damaged by a barge. The bridge -- the other span connecting Lady's Island to Port Royal Island -- was closed for several days before opening to one-way traffic for about two months while it was repaired. Restricted access to Lady's Island forced traffic to be re-routed all over town.