CHARLESTON, SC (AP) As workers, politicians and onlookers applauded, a crane gently lowered the last concrete panel onto the deck of the $632-million Ravenel Bridge March 11, closing the last gap in what is now the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America.
“This is a historic day for this historic community,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said, calling the soaring bridge with its twin diamond towers “an engineering marvel … a bridge of remarkable grace and beauty.”
The bridge, the most expensive ever built in South Carolina, will open to traffic later this year, replacing the rusting twin cantilever bridges that now cross the Cooper River linking Charleston and Mount Pleasant along U.S. 17.
Work on the bridge approaches and paving of the eight-lane main span above the shipping channel remain to be completed.
As a chilly wind blew in from Charleston Harbor under hazy skies, a crowd of approximately 100 people gathered in the center of the bridge’s 1,546-ft. main span.
A group of six workers in orange safety vests guided the panel into place. Local television stations, their satellite trucks parked just down the bridge, broadcast the moment live.
“We are now officially the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America,” said Bobby Clair, the Department of Transportation engineer overseeing the bridge construction.
The previous holder of that title was the Alex Fraser Bridge in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The Ravenel’s main span is 20 ft. longer. The longest cable-stayed bridge in the world is the Tatara Bridge near Niihama, Japan, with a main span of 2,919 ft.
“What a great day this is,” said Mount Pleasant Mayor Harry Hallman. “This bridge will make a lot of things happen in this community and the state.”
Then Riley and Hallman shook hands, standing where the bridge crosses the boundary of the two communities.
The bridge’s namesake, former congressman and state Sen. Arthur Ravenel, recalled how a new bridge had been discussed for years before financing was finally put in place.
He noted how he once asked Wade Watson, the project manager of Palmetto Bridge Constructors, the consortium building the bridge, if the job didn’t make him nervous.
He recalled Watson saying that after the challenges of finding the money and getting community approval, building the bridge itself is a piece of cake.
“And what a beautiful piece of cake this is,” Ravenel quipped.
Later, Ravenel was asked if he had a nickname for the bridge.
“I like the Cuzway,” he laughed. “Everybody calls me Cousin Arthur and the reason they do that is really I’m kin to about half the people in Charleston County.”