Work Speeds Ahead on Replacing Century-Old Bridges With Tunnel

’Top Down’ Construction Adds $40 Million to Bridge Estimate

Wed December 20, 2006 - Southeast Edition
CEG



COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) The cost of a proposed bridge project at Lake Marion has grown to $150 million, up 76 percent from the original estimate six years ago.

State highway officials blamed the increase on environmental concerns and inflation. The latest estimate is the third time in six years state Transportation Department officials have increased the expected price.

Critics of the bridge project said the higher cost reinforces their concerns about spending public money for a span that will serve few people and disturb the upper Santee Swamp.

“These new estimates highlight the absurdity of proceeding with this project,” said Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford. “It doesn’t make sense for taxpayers and it doesn’t make sense for people who care about the environment.”

The biggest proponent of the bridge to connect the small towns of Lone Star and Rimini is U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who said the connector will foster economic development in the impoverished area 40 mi. southeast of Columbia.

Clyburn has obtained approximately $25 million in federal money for the bridge. He said the higher projected cost doesn’t mean the bridge is not worth pursuing. He said the bridge’s critics don’t want the bridge regardless of the price tag.

“I’m all about protecting the environment and I’m all about improving the quality of life of people that I’m here to serve,” Clyburn said.

But environmentalists have been among the bridge’s biggest detractors. Three groups have sued to stop the bridge, saying it would disrupt the swamp. State and federal wildlife agencies also have expressed reservations.

According to the state Transportation Department, the bridge will be built using a construction technique called “top down,” in which workers build an initial section of bridge then use that as a platform to build the next section.

The method keeps heavy equipment out of the wetlands but accounts for approximately $40 million of the total cost.

The Transportation Department said it cannot guarantee construction costs for the bridge will remain at $150 million because permits haven’t been obtained and funding commitments are short. The agency has not set a date to begin construction.

Until it does, the price could continue going up.