State and local officials were surprised by the ice buildup on the cables of the Ravenel bridge linking Charleston and Mount Pleasant during two ice storms earlier this year.
The surprise is evidenced in emails obtained by the Post and Courier of Charleston discussing the heavy ice that forced the shutdown of the bridge in late January and then again last month.
The ice from the January storm melted and fell on cars, smashing windows, after the bridge had reopened when the roadway itself was clear. The bridge was closed for 51 hours during the second ice storm in mid-February for the same reason.
The emails show state officials had no plan to deal with the ice other than wait for it to melt.
Though the closure during the February storm was longer, emails indicate there was less confusion about the situation and fewer mixed messages relayed to the public.
A similar bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia, had the same problem last December, and a system to brush and scrape away cable snow and ice was installed.
The emails were obtained by the newspaper through Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to the state Department of Transportation, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division, the Charleston and Mount Pleasant police departments and the Governor’s Office.
They show more communication and coordination among agencies during the second storm even as Transportation Department staffers searched the Internet and contacted experts for possible solutions to the icing problem. None was immediately found.
Acting Secretary of Transportation Christy Hall said in an email to staffers that “communication deficiencies and confusion over anti-icing strategies became evident” during the first storm.
Hall noted it was the first time there was an icing problem on the bridge since it opened nine years ago.
“Main message is lessons learned and setting stage for path forward,” she wrote.