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SC Bridge Temporarily Closed Due to Heat

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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As an effect of the record-setting heat in South Carolina over the past few days, the Ben Sawyer Bridge had to close, due to the structure becoming stuck partially open. State transportation officials did note that this is not a symptom of structural integrity issues, however.

According to The Post and Courier, the Charleston area experienced a high of 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday. The heat index—which was even higher—was enough to warp the steel structure.

Ben Sawyer Bridge

The bridge was originally built between 1943 and 1945, and the South Carolina Department of Transportation approved the $32.5 million rehabilitation project in late summer 2008, which was funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Construction on the current iteration of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, a movable swing span, was started in January 2009 and completed in February 2010, with PCL Civil Constructors serving as the general contractor on the project. The bridge connects Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant. Florida Structural Steel produced the structural steel for the project.

Work entailed replacing the steel superstructure, which included replacing the swing-span with a swing-span truss.

According to The Post and Courier, the bridge was closed in 2009 for three days so that rusted steel beams that served to support the bridge-tender’s home could be replaced.

In 2004, the allowable weight of vehicles was reduced from 30 tons to 20 tons, as floor beams and stringers were found to be significantly deteriorated. In October 2018, a limit switch—a light sensor that accounts for bridge alignment when the structure opens and closes—had to be repaired.

The current iteration of the bridge was built at what used to be the Charleston Naval Base, with everything being moved into place via barge.

Bridge Closure

SCDOT recently noted that while other bridges have experienced similar heat, Memorial Day was the first time the structure was forced to shut down as a result of the temperature. DOT construction engineer Kevin Turner estimated that the bridge opens for boats 200 times a month, roughly seven times daily.

Once the bridge cooled down, a portion of a swollen plate was removed via melting by torch. Citadel assistant professor of civil engineering John Ryan noted that SCDOT “torched away” roughly a quarter of an inch across a plate.

“My understanding is, from a structural standpoint, it was almost cosmetic … it doesn’t impact the function of the bridge whatsoever as far as I can tell.”

The Ben Sawyer Bridge remained closed to water traffic, but was open to vehicular traffic as of Wednesday (May 29) morning.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Transportation

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