CHARLESTON, SC (AP) Hundreds of people filled an eight-lane highway in place of cars and trucks to dedicate the $632 million Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River, the longest cable-stayed span in North America.
“We have created not only a bridge, but a thing of beauty,” said Arthur Ravenel Jr., the former state senator and U.S. congressman for whom the span is named.
The bridge’s 1,546-ft. (471-m) main span is supported by cables stretching down from the tops of a pair of diamond-shaped, 570-ft.-tall (174-m) towers. Unlike suspension spans such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate, where the deck is suspended beneath two hefty main cables that connect the towers in a lengthy curve, the Ravenel cables extend directly from the towers to the deck.
“It’s a wonderful, beautiful structure,” Ravenel told the crowd of at least 1,500 people July 16.
The eight-lane bridge, which took four years to build, carries U.S. 17 along with pedestrian and bicycle lanes. The main span is about 200 ft. (60 m) above the water and will allow larger cargo ships to enter the port. Construction began four years ago, and the bridge was finished about a year ahead of schedule.
Its main span is 20 ft. (6 m) longer than the Alex Fraser Bridge in Victoria, British Columbia, which had been the longest on the continent.
The longest cable-stayed bridge in the world is the Tatara Bridge near Niihama, Japan, with a main span of 2,919 ft. (890m).
The dedication ceremonies capped a week of celebrations. On July 14, thousands lined the sides of Charleston Harbor and watched from boats as a huge fireworks display illuminated the bridge. Earlier in the week, a black-tie gala was held on the span, and, the previous weekend, tens of thousands of pedestrians walked across the bridge before it opened to traffic.
The bridge replaces two smaller spans that will be removed.
Bobby Clair, the state Department of Transportation engineer who oversaw the bridge project, received a standing ovation from the crowd July 16.
“It’s been a long journey, but has gone by quickly,” he said. “It’s been a true privilege to work on this great project.”
Ravenel, who is suffering from a rare illness, but still managed to participate in the opening ceremonies, can see the twin diamond towers of the Ravenel bridge from his backyard.
Last month, the former lawmaker was struck with an illness that left the 78-year-old with double vision, slurred speech and tingling hands. Doctors thought at first it was a stroke but then determined Ravenel had Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
“I’d never heard those words before in my life,” Ravenel said.
“When I came down with this illness, I thought maybe I’ll die and that’ll satisfy those people who say you shouldn’t name things after people before they’re dead,” he joked.
The bridge, he said, “has everything everyone wanted — a 1,000-ft. channel, greater height, eight lanes of traffic and a 12-ft. bicycle and pedestrian walkway.
“It’s an aristocratic but plebeian bridge, as massive as it is elegant,” he said.
Ravenel is known affectionately as “Cousin Arthur” and prefers the name “Cuzway” as a nickname for the eight-lane bridge.
For more information, call or visit www.cooperriverbridge.org. CEG