South Carolina May Have to Pay to Remove Aging Bridges

Wed September 01, 2004 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) Once the most expensive bridge project in state history is complete, the state Transportation Department may have to pay to tear down the aging twin bridges now spanning the Cooper River between Charleston and Mount Pleasant.

Unless officials can come up with $40 million in new money, the demolition cost may have to come from the department’s new construction budget for next year.

That would decrease that budget by as much as 20 percent, leaving roughly $160 million for new projects next year.

“Right now, we don’t have this money in any budget,” said Bobby Clair, the Department of Transportation engineer overseeing the bridge construction. And, he said, the agency has no guarantee the money would be replaced by lawmakers if it is spent from next year’s budget. “But we need to be reimbursed.”

Transportation officials have met with state lawmakers in recent months, but no new money has been added to the department’s demolition budget.

The contract calls for the existing bridges to be torn down within six months after the new $632 million Ravenal Bridge is open to traffic.

The Coast Guard requires that the old bridges be removed and the Ravenal Bridge is expected to open to traffic in the summer of 2005.

The demolition cost was not included in the budget for the new bridge.

The plan calls for the aging bridges to be broken into pieces and taken by barge to sea where they will be used for artificial fishing reefs.

U.S. Sens. Lindsay Graham and Fritz Hollings are trying to help the state find the needed money, said spokesmen for both senators.

Clair said that if federal money does become available, it would be more than a year before the state is reimbursed.

A contract for the bridge demolition work will be awarded in January.

The bridges will provide 22,0000 tons of steel and 231,000 tons of concrete for existing reefs off the South Carolina coast.