South Carolina Awards Demo Contract for Cooper Bridges

Wed April 13, 2005 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) With the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America nearing completion, the state has awarded a contract for removing the twin aging, rusting cantilever bridges that the $632 million Ravenel Bridge will replace.

At the same time, the Charleston County Library is collecting memories, photographs and other mementos from the public about the aging bridges now linking Charleston and Mount Pleasant.

The final gap in the new bridge was closed in March and the span, the most expensive bridge ever built in South Carolina, is expected to open to traffic this summer.

The state Department of Transportation this week awarded a $59.6 million contract to two Massachusetts companies to tear down the existing bridges.

Jay Cashman Inc. and Testa Corp., will begin tearing down the existing bridges soon after the new span opens. The contractors plan to recycle the 22,000 tons (20,000 t) of steel and dump more than 231,000 tons (210,000 t) of concrete offshore to create artificial fishing reefs.

The state had discussed having contractors to remove the span across the shipping channel within six months of the new bridge’s opening. Now those sections can be removed at any time during the 18-month contract.

The oldest of the existing bridges, the two-lane John Grace Memorial Bridge, opened in 1929. The newer, three-lane Silas Pearman Bridge opened in 1966.

The library is collecting oral histories, photographs, film clips and other items about the old bridges.

“We want residents to look in their attics, their trunks and their scrapbooks,” said library director Jan Buvinger. “They can either give it to the library, or if they want it back, we can scan it.”

Sara Merritt, now 80, remembers that as a child of four she clung to her father’s arm on a tissue paper-covered float crossing the Grace bridge the day it opened.

She had never been that high off the ground as the float climbed to the summit.

“I felt like we were going and going and would never stop,” Merritt recalls.

She knows the new bridge will make travel easier but will miss the old spans that for decades have been part of the Charleston skyline.

“When the Grace comes down, I’ll be the one over there crying,” she said.