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New Building Method to Replace Savannah Bridge's Cables, Raise Deck for Taller Ships

Wed February 08, 2023 - Southeast Edition #4
Savannah Morning News & Capitol Beat


The Talmadge Bridge crosses the Savannah River and connects the city to Hutchinson Island, Ga. It also carries U.S. Highway 17, which moves traffic through the area into South Carolina.
The Talmadge Bridge crosses the Savannah River and connects the city to Hutchinson Island, Ga. It also carries U.S. Highway 17, which moves traffic through the area into South Carolina.

A unique proposal to replace the cables of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, thus raising it so that taller shipping vessels can access the Port of Savannah, Ga., got a greenlight from the Georgia Transportation Board on Jan. 26.

Capitol Beat, a news service in Atlanta, noted that the plan can be done without closing the bridge to traffic at an estimated cost of $150 million to $175 million.

Andrew Hoenig, construction program manager of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Office of Alternative Delivery, told a Board of Transportation committee that since the bridge's construction in the late 1980s, "There have been a lot of upgrades in cable technology, and you also have [over 30] years of wear and tear and degradation on the cables."

While many bridge projects across the nation have involved replacing cables or creating more draft space for ships to pass underneath, the approved process combining the two tasks in the same project is a "unique approach," Hoenig said to Capitol Beat.

The project is the first of its kind approved by the transportation board, which allows GDOT greater flexibility when it comes to designing and building with contractors, the Savannah Morning News reported.

The new process, called Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC), allows the agency to consider alternative contracting methods with an approved contractor during the entirety of a project, including the design and risk mitigation phases, according to a GDOT spokesperson.

So, instead of merely replacing the cables, the CM/GC method can look at modern technologies, design complexities and consider greater creativity in addressing existing problems, while perfecting the construction timeline.

The contracting method received approval from the Georgia Legislature two years ago and will allow GDOT to work directly with cable bridge industry experts to seek solutions and implement much-needed maintenance on the 32-year-old bridge, the Savannah news outlet noted.

Pre-construction bids will go out at the end of 2023, with a more concrete timeline of design and construction to come next year, GDOT said.

Longer-Term Solutions Sought for Bridge

When the Morning News asked the Georgia Ports Authority about plans for the proposed bridge work, it directed all questions to GDOT, citing the lack of a long-term solution.

The state's approach does not replace the multi-year study GDOT is conducting to find a more permanent plan to allow for larger vessels to pass under the state-line crossing, which includes replacing the bridge, moving its location, or raising the foundations of the existing bridge.

"At the current 185-ft. clearance, the bridge limits efficient access for larger ships, which need to travel under the bridge to reach the Port of Savannah," according to a statement from GDOT. "The challenge will be magnified in the coming decades as larger ships become increasingly common because of their fuel efficiency and lower overall operating costs."

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he was not sure what this maintenance solution would entail, but he hopes GDOT will be mindful of the Talmadge Bridge's proximity to downtown Savannah and several of its neighborhoods.

"It appears that they found a solution that utilizes existing assets and new technology," he told the Morning News. "And, preliminarily, it looks like this could be a win-win. It wouldn't close the bridge for a significant period of time, and it wouldn't change the configuration of the city's assets on the southside of the bridge, so we're waiting to see how the rest of it plays out."

The Talmadge Bridge crosses the Savannah River and connects the city to Hutchinson Island, Ga. It also carries U.S. Highway 17, which moves traffic through the area into South Carolina. The span first opened in 1991 and replaced a 1950s-era cantilevered truss bridge. The towers that hold the cable-stayed bridge deck are positioned on either side of the river's main shipping channel.




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