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Spartan

New Charleston Bridge Tops out

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Downtown church steeples, container port cranes and the Morris Island Lighthouse -- all have been signs for mariners that Charleston was on the horizon.

But during the past 15 months, two massive diamonds have risen skyward from the harbor, and seamen such as harbor pilot Whit Smith can see these new monuments from more than 25 miles out.

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"We know land is coming when we start to see the towers," said Smith, president of the Charles-ton Branch Pilots Association, who routinely steers container ships through Charleston Harbor. "We immediately know we're in Charleston."

Bridge crews finished the tower closer to the Charleston shore Tuesday, making the 572.5-foot-tall structure the tallest in the state. Crews are poised to pour the final 45 cubic yards of concrete atop the tower nearer the Mount Pleasant shore by Memorial Day weekend.

The work is a milestone in the $632 million Cooper River bridge project, which began nearly three years ago.

It also marks the beginning of a period of anxiety for the bridge builders: Until the cables are attached to the roadbed, the towers are vulnerable to high winds; June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season.Workers will focus on construction of the cable-supported roadway, including installation of the bridge's 128 cables. Each cable must be securely attached to a spot in the tower to hold up to 5 million pounds of roadway and vehicles.

The completion of the towers coincides with the culmination of a four-month-long search to find a new supplier of steel rods, a must-have building material for crews installing cables. Bridge officials were left in a bind after Georgetown Steel declared bankruptcy in October, leaving only an 11-month supply that would have run out in September.

The company had been the sole supplier of the steel rods, which are placed inside the bridge cables to give them their strength.

Now that the towers are nearly complete and a new supplier, Texas-based North Star, has been located, two cables can be installed weekly. The bridge's 128 cables are expected to be installed by February.

Structurally, the tower closer to the Charleston shore reached its full strength earlier this month. Since then, crews have doubled the number of bridge cables protruding from the tower to eight.

The tower on the Mount Pleasant side reached full structural strength late last week. Coming weeks will bring a similar surge in cable installation.

By June, the towers and unfinished road will be able to withstand winds up to 75 mph. Stronger winds could crack the towers and loosen the cables.

"We certainly will be a lot better off when we complete the entire bridge structure," said Charles Dwyer, project manager with the state Department of Transportation. In its entirety, the bridge and towers will be capable of withstanding winds up to 193 mph.

If the bridge makes it through the hurricane season unscathed, the eight-lane span could open to traffic in May 2005, bridge officials said Wednesday. Previous estimates gave a completion date for an unspecified month next summer.

"We are on track to complete this project 14 months early," said Bobby Clair Jr., who oversees the project as director of engineering with the DOT. "But we won't know for sure until after hurricane season."

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I copied this article straight from The Post and Courier:

http://www.charleston.net/stories/052004/loc_20bridge.shtml

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