Ravenel Bridge Unswayed By Steel Expense

Wed April 14, 2004 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) Skyrocketing steel prices are not expected to affect completion of the most expensive bridge in South Carolina –– the $632-million Ravenel Bridge rising along the skyline between Charleston and Mount Pleasant.

But there is some worry about finding a manufacturer to make the needed cable for what will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.

Steel prices have risen roughly 30 percent in the past few months because of a weak U.S. dollar and increased demand for steel in China.

“Folks in the construction industry are not able to get anything beyond a 15-day commitment at a certain price,” said Bobby Clair, the state Transportation Department Engineer overseeing the bridge project.

But he said the bridge contractors have their steel prices already locked in. “We’re not anticipating any impact. We don’t have an escalation clause in our contracts for increasing prices,” he said.

“There is one product we’re having difficulty finding right now,” Clair added.

The contractors still must find a supplier for some of the steel rods that will be used in the bridge cables. Dozens of steel strands enclosed in white polyethylene sheath will make up the cables to be suspended from the two diamond towers of the bridge.

In all, 128 cables will hold up the 1,546-ft. main span.

Clair said approximately 60 percent of the needed rods, manufactured at Georgetown Steel Co., based in Georgetown, SC, are on hand.

But the mill has been idle since last October when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and reorganization. So a new source must be found.

“We didn’t realize at the time that Georgetown Steel had manufactured most of the cable for the last four or five cable-stayed bridges [in the United States]”, Clair said.

The problem is that the needed steel –– approximately a half million dollars worth –– represents only a day’s production for the steel mill. Many mills are not interested in shutting down for a one-day run.

Officials are now talking to a mill in Texas about making steel.

“There is enough cable on hand to work through September. So it’s critical a manufacturer be found by next month so the cable can be manufactured, tested and shipped by the time the current supply runs out.

“I’m confident we’ll find a supplier,” said Clair, adding the South Carolina Department of Transportation would prefer to buy the material locally.

Any increase in cost from the Georgetown Steel mill closing will have to absorbed by Paris-based subcontractor Freyssinet, which is responsible for the design and installation of the cable. The company signed a fixed-price contract for its work on the bridge, Clair said.

The bridge is ahead of schedule and expected to open in the summer of next year.

“It looks good right now for us getting the materials delivered and completing this project in 2005,” he said.