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Work Proceeds on Large Bridge in Cinematic Beaufort

Thu October 28, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Peter Hildebrandt

With movies like Forrest Gump, The Big Chill, The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, being filmed there, the Beaufort, S.C., area has become established on the big screen as a place of memorable magnificence, with its graceful bridges and scenic waterways.

Area highway construction is working at keeping both the town’s bridges practical, efficient, well-built and unobtrusively picturesque. Building is under way on the twin bridge to the existing McTeer Bridge (SC 802) over the Beaufort River (Intracoastal Waterway) from Ladies Island to Port Royal, S.C. The new structure rises and falls over the water of the tidal river and nearby salt marshes while at the same time providing an inviting means across the water— just in case one’s Boston whaler, sunfish or kickboard don’t happen to be handy.

The new bridge is a two-lane, fixed-span, reinforced concrete bridge. Traffic will continue on the older span, built in 1978 and still structurally sound. This older span currently has 20,000 cars per day on average passing over it. In the end, the new two-lane bridge will be all eastbound and the older two-lane bridge will be all westbound.

This project will alleviate traffic for residents of Ladies Island, Fripp Island, Port Royal and surrounding communities. Currently the project has some 65 workers. On average the project maintains 55 people involved in the work.

Work started on this project in September of 2009 and is projected to be complete by the end of July in 2011. The price of the bridge is $35 million with a total project value of about $52 million for the overall initiative, including the road work being done by Sanders Brothers Construction Company Inc., Charleston, S.C.

The bridge is 4,211 ft. (1,283 m) long with a main span of 170 ft. (51.8 m) long and 65 ft. (19.8 m) above high water level.

The prime contractor, United Contractors LLC, is responsible for management of all of the superstructure work and pile driving on the bridge, while Misener Marine, the major sub-contractor, is responsible for all substructure work and mass concrete pours for the main spans.

Donald Anderson, project manager of United Contractors, explained that the largest challenge on this job has been the high fluctuation in tides and the strong current that runs through this stretch of river. This challenge has been overcome and has become easier to handle as the crews gain more experience working with it.

The general superintendent on the job, Duane Lightsey, started his career working out of high school by finishing up the old bridge that is next to the new bridge he’s now working on. He worked on the first bridge as a skilled laborer for one of United Contractors’ founding companies, Ryan Inc.

“The majority of the people that were associated with building the old McTeer bridge are still around in our company,” said Anderson. Lightsey’s father was a superintendent back when they built the old bridge and now works while retired as a crane operator for the company.

“He has a vast amount of experience,” said Anderson. “This isn’t the only father/son team we have. The company has a number of other such situations, leading to a tremendous amount of cumulative experience. You’re not only getting the expertise of one generation of a builder who has 25 or 30 years in, but you are getting a new generation with plenty of skills necessary for the work as well.”

Though things are moving along smoothly, there was a bit of a problem getting off on the right step at the start. One of their subcontractors on the job had some problems getting equipment moved from one location to another. This was purely a logistics issue, though.

The only issues that arose with wildlife or the environment, was a concern about bald eagles nesting down the Beaufort River. The project has had no impact on the nest site or the bald eagles.

Anderson is a strong proponent of staying ahead of your project. “A manager must be always looking out for things on their project. If you’re not a month ahead, you’re too late; our engineering degrees are helpful, but practical experience is important as well; we use both that and the book-smarts to anticipate problems coming up,” Anderson explained.

Anderson has worked for mega contractor construction firms as well, but sees great benefits in United Contractors’ use of some of the longest retained workforce in the industry. They have carpenters who have worked for the company for 25 years. An experienced individual who works for the firm is called “Bridge Builder.” They can be relied on to do all aspects of bridge construction from building forms to driving a pile.

“If you hire someone off the street, as mega-contractor construction companies often do, frequently you have no time to train them properly,” said Anderson. “Our company views experience as counting for something. The mega-contractors hire workers when they arrive at a job site and when the job is over they are done with those workers. We take all of ours with us on jobs and put them up in hotels.

The Beaufort River Bridge was a hard-bid build, mainly because it was the first bridge in Beaufort County supported by a sales tax, as the county is actually paying for it. With this being a local issue involving only a one percent sales tax, protest was minimal. It’s easy to go out to dinner and then think ’I had dinner and by the way, I also paid something toward building a bridge in the area’.”

The County will hand over the maintenance on the bridge to South Carolina Department of Transportation. It is actually cheaper for the county to use this method of setting things up. County residents have the benefit of the bridge and the state the benefit of the added infrastructure, with their only costs that of maintaining it.

The job only has a negative impact on the surrounding community when one lane of the existing bridge is closed to use as a construction staging area for concrete pours. This work is completed at night during times of low traffic volumes to minimize the impact. As always, the negative effect to local environmental issues is minimized as much as possible.

Currently there are a total of nine cranes on site in use between Misener Marine and United Contractors. There are two American 9299, two Manitowoc 4100 Series II, one Link-Belt LS-138H, one Link-Belt 238H, one American HC80 and one Tadano 45 ton rough-terrain crane.

Most of the cranes are currently being used for lifting and moving materials, rebar and concrete forms into place on the job site. The cranes also are being used for driving and removing sheet pile for cofferdams, driving pre-stressed concrete pile, driving drill shaft casings, and setting pre-stressed girders, and footer rebar and forms. There also is one drill rig, a Manitowoc 4100 Series II on site which is being used to drill the shaft foundations for the bridge.

The biggest crane on site is a Manitowoc 4100 Series II, 230-ton crawler crane. Misener Marine currently has two of these cranes on site and they are used to pick and set the reinforced concrete beams. The smallest crane is an all-terrain crane which is used for everything from moving shugart barges alongside the bridge, to miscellaneous materials. This crane is a Tadano 4-wheel drive crane and has a 50-ton capacity.

Anderson and Lightsey split their time between Beaufort and another project in Savannah.

“I look at the way we’ve effectively divided our forces as being almost like a military-type problem: moving equipment, manpower and technical support as needed. Safety has been a number one priority on this job as with all other work done by United Contractors LLC,” Anderson stated.

Beaufort County remains ready for its next “close-up.” The ribbon-cutting should take place in July, 2011. CEG

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