U.S. Highway 17 Georgia
U.S. 17 straddles Georgia's Gold Coast between Jacksonville, Florida and Hardeeville, South Carolina. The federal highway meanders through coastal communities such as Kingsland, Brunswick, Darien, Richmond Hill, and Savannah on its course parallel to Interstate 95. Georgia 25 co-signs with the route for almost the entire route through the Peach State.
Two bridges of interest reside along U.S. 17 in the state of Georgia. The Sidney Lanier Bridge spans the Brunswick River south of Brunswick and the Eugene Talmadge Bridge crosses the Back River of the Savannah River between Savannah and Hutchinson Island. These bridges are profiled below.
Sidney Lanier Bridge
The U.S. 17 cable-stayed bridge over the Brunswick River is Georgia's tallest span. The Sidney Lanier cable-stayed bridge replaced an ailing draw bridge by the same name to provide a higher vertical clearance for the nearby Port of Brunswick. Georgia state law indicates that "all bridge replacements must keep the name of the original bridge." Thus the new span retained the name of the original span. The main span of the bridge travels up to 203.295 feet above sea level and is supported by twin 480 feet towers. The deck itself measures 1,250 feet between each tower and overall travels 7,780 feet in length. Four 12-foot travels lanes accompany eight-foot outside shoulders and two-foot inside shoulders for an overall deck width of 73 feet 9 inches. That measurement includes the concrete jersey barrier median.1
The original lift bridge that spanned the Brunswick River was 139 feet high and 250 feet wide. Opened in 1956, the vertical lift bridge was mired with problems relating from mechanical failure and often had to be closed for repairs causing lengthy detours to the west for Brunswick bound traffic. Additionally during the shrimping season it was not uncommon to have dozens of lifts per day for shrimping vessels, pleasure boats, and other ships adding to the inconvenience.2
If those issues were not bad enough, the original Sidney Lanier Bridge was the site of a catastrophic boating accident in 1972 when the African Neptune struck the bridge. The accident resulted in 10 deaths, and several segments of the span itself came down. Further damage occurred 15 years later when contact was again made between an ocean going vessel and the bridge on May 3, 1987, when the Polish freighter Zeimia Bialostocka collided with a support tower to seriously damage the bridge. The Sidney Lanier Bridge was again out of commission for several months. To address the need for a higher structure, the new cable stay bridge was built, and the lift bridge limped along until March 23, 2003, when it was closed. The bridge was closed to make way for the final construction work on the new cable-stayed bridge nearby.2 It cost the state of Georgia $21 million to remove the old span.3 The new bridge opened a few weeks later.
Eugene Talmadge Bridge
U.S. 17 spans the Savannah River between Savannah and Hutchinson Island along the four-lane Eugene Talmadge Bridge. The second of two cable-stayed bridges, the Talmadge Bridge provides a high-speed route from Interstate 16 and downtown Savannah to Hutchinson Island and Jasper County, South Carolina.
Originally a two-lane cantilever bridge spanned the Savannah River between Savannah and Hutchinson Island. The bridge was also named after Eugene Talmadge, governor of Georgia in the 1930s and 40s. It opened to traffic in September 1954 after 18 months of construction at a cost of $12.5 million. The span crossed the river at a height of 136 feet and carried U.S. 17 Alternate until 1988. Tolls collected by the Coastal Highway District paid for the bridge until their removal on October 31, 1975. That bridge fee mandated that the U.S. 17 mainline remained northwest of the city to Port Wentworth and the free Houlihan Bridge.6
To accommodate larger vessels at the Port of Savannah, the prospect of replacing the original Talmadge Bridge grew in strength as commerce increased. Safety concerns also arose as shipping accidents occurred in July of 1983 and again in November of 1990 involving large ships colliding with the cantilever span.
GDOT sponsored bridge replacement studies in 1981 and by 1987 the first bids were let on a new cable-stayed bridge. Construction commenced in 1988 and the new Talmadge Bridge opened to traffic in March of 1991 at a cost of $70.9 million.6 In anticipation of the new span, U.S. 17 saw relocation from the Houlihan Bridge onto the old Talmadge Bridge in 1988. Old U.S. 17 became simply Georgia 25 and U.S. 17 Alternate ceased to exist.
The Eugene Talmadge Bridge spans the Savannah River at a height of 185 feet above high tide with a horizontal clearance of 1,023 feet. The original bridge included pier supports in the river itself, which resulted in the two aforementioned crashes. Two large supports for the cable-stayed bridge lie on land.6
U.S. 17 Highway Guides