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New bridge may be unavailable for MS Ride

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May not be open in time for Sunset at Sunset

By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH—The new Intracoastal Waterway high-rise bridge may not be open in time for the upcoming Bike MS: Breakaway to the Beach Ride slated to end for the first time in Sunset Beach.

Sunset Beach Town Administrator Gary Parker, speaking at a specially called town council meeting Aug. 12, said he learned through town staff an MS official has been advised the new bridge may not be available for use when the two-day ride ends Sept. 26 in Sunset Beach.

In that event, the MS group has made alternative plans to have the ride end at Ingram Planetarium and the adjacent Village at Sunset Beach parking areas. Bicyclists who still want to finish the ride on the Sunset Beach island can use the old bridge if the new one isn’t open.

“We are establishing our Plan B,” said Jeff Viscount, logistics manager for the regional Bike MS event, which has drawn more than 1,400 bicyclists who have signed up so far.

The alternative plan calls for having the ride end at the planetarium and Village at Sunset Beach shopping area, he said. Some parking is available there, which will provide for buses and other infrastructure vehicles associated with the annual fundraiser, Viscount said.

MS bicyclists will still have the option of using the Sunset Beach pontoon bridge if they wish to end their ride on the island, Viscount said.

“We’ll still be on the beach,” he said. “We’ll still be making all of our plans, just with an alternative finish site.”

Since the new bridge and its accompanying bicycle lane may not be open, the ride’s infrastructure supports, including chartered buses to carry riders back home, cannot cross the pontoon bridge and will have to remain on the mainland, Viscount said.

“For many safety reasons, we just can’t afford to finish on the beach with the old bridge being the only access,” he said.

Mark Hackney, construction superintendent with English Construction, which is building the new $32 million high-rise bridge, said the bridge subcontractor is behind schedule, leading to a delay in its opening.

“We have to wait for the concrete to cure before we can do certain things with it,” Hackney said Tuesday.

He said it’s also unclear whether the bridge will be open in time for the Sunset at Sunset celebration the following weekend, when the town is planning bridge-opening festivities Oct. 1-2. Hackney said the bridge opening could be delayed again.

“I can’t tell…I don’t know yet,” he said. “It’s possible.”

Viscount said Bike MS organizers are disappointed.

“But we’re not daunted in the least to continue our ride at Sunset,” he said. “If the [new] bridge is open, we’re glad. If not, we’ll ride across it next year.”