A federal-court judge has denied a bid by environmental groups to halt replacement of a South Carolina bridge that runs through the state’s only national park.
U.S. District Court Judge Margaret B. Seymour green-lighted the project over the objections of Friends of Congaree Swamp, which had sought a permanent injunction against the long-stalled initiative.
The $32.9 million project is designed to replace a series of four bridges and expand causeways on the existing highway. One structure is the U.S. 601 Bridge over the Congaree River. Three bridges serve as overflow bridges between SC 48 and the Congaree River in Richland and Calhoun Counties.
All of the current bridges were built in the 1940s and are classified as “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.” The bridges touch the flood plain of Congaree National Park.
State Transportation Secretary Robert J. St. Onge Jr. called the ruling, issued Wednesday (April 27), a win for the public and the South Carolina Department of Transportation. “SCDOT can now complete this project within the original budget, and the public will have four new bridges that meet current design and safety standards to use on this major route,” said St. Onge.
Wetlands Impact Questioned
The group first sued over the bridge in 2006 and won a judge’s ruling in 2008 that the environmental impact needed more study.
Transportation officials then revised their environmental study, which again justified the project. In their second lawsuit, filed in September, conservationists said the revised study did not address the project’s impact any more thoroughly than the first study.
Rob Thompson /S.C. Dept. of Transportation
|The $32.9 million project is designed to replace a series of four bridges.|
They wanted more extensive research before the project is finished. They also wanted more of the approach road to be converted to bridges to protect the flood plain and wildlife; SCDOT said that would be too expensive.
Among environmentalists’ concerns was the project’s impact on wetlands. In addition to SCDOT’s environmental assessment and public hearings, the Federal Highway Administration said the project would not have a significant impact on the quality of the environment.
The work requires filling in 8.22 acres of wetlands, but will restore 7.32 acres filled in when the current bridges were built in the 1940s.
Attorney Michael Corley with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project said Friday that his client, Friends of the Congaree Swamp, had not decided whether to appeal Seymour’s decision.
Scope of Work
The project will include:
- 4.2 miles of new roadway and bridges;
- Expansion of the existing two 11-foot lanes with 2-foot shoulders to 12-foot lanes with 10-foot shoulders to improve safety.
- A new boat ramp and expanded parking at the Bates Bridge Landing on the Congaree River; and
SCDOT awarded the project to United Contractors Inc., of Johnston, IA, in June 2010. Construction began in August 2010 and is expected to be complete in June 2013.
- About 245 additional feet of bridging added to Bridge Number 2 to ease passage for wildlife between the causeways and to enhance the flow of water.
The existing bridges will remain in use during construction. Closing them would have meant creating a 70-mile detour.