U.S. Highway 17 - Cooper River Bridges
The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) completed the single most expensive construction project in state history on July 15, 2005 when the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opened to traffic over the Cooper River at Charleston. The 2.5-mile eight-lane bridge replaces two aging cantilever spans (the 1929-opened Grace Bridge and 1966-opened Pearman Bridge) that spanned both Towne Creek and the Cooper River between the city of Charleston and the town of Mount Pleasant. The bridge design features a 1,546 long main span, the longest such span in all of North America and signature diamond shaped towers that reach 572 feet into the air. Construction took four years to complete at a cost of $632 million.2
The original configuration of the John C. Grace (U.S. 17 southbound) and Silas Pearman (U.S. 17 northbound) Bridges over the Cooper River and Town Creek. U.S. 17 traveled the Septima Clark Expressway through the city of Charleston to the cantilever bridges. An interchange existed with East Bay Street and with South Carolina 703 (Coleman Boulevard) from the U.S. 17 freeway viaduct and bridge system.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge carries eight 12-foot wide travel lanes and a 12 foot wide bicycle and pedestrian path. Both directions of travel include four foot inside and outside shoulders. The pedestrian lane follows the Charleston Harbor side of the bridge between Morrison Drive in Charleston and Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. Viewing platforms extend outward from each tower to allow bicyclist and pedestrians a place to view the harbor. 128 cables soar skyward anchoring the bridge deck to the towers at a maximum height of 186 feet above the shipping channel below.2
|Views of the Silas Pearman, John C. Grace, and new Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridges of U.S. 17 as seen from Patriot Point Park, home of the USS Yorktown. Photos taken 01/18/04 & 07/17/05.|
|Side views of the Ravenel Bridge visible from the tower overlooks over the Cooper River. The cantilever bridges over Town Creek to the west lie dormant. Photos taken by Carter Buchanan (07/17/05).|
John C. Grace Bridge
Construction began on the first Cooper River Bridge between the city of Charleston and town of Mount Pleasant in 1928. John C. Grace, a local Charlestonian, spearheaded support for the crossing. It only took 17 months to build the bridge between 1928 and the opening date of August 8, 1929. The two-lane bridge travels 2.71 miles and cost approximately $6 million to complete. At the time the bridge constituted the fifth longest in the world, with a 1,050 foot span between its supports. The John C. Grace Bridge resides 150 feet above the Cooper River.
The cantilever bridge comprised a tolled facility seeing 50 cents levied to all passenger vehicles. By 1946 the state of South Carolina purchased the bridge from the Cooper River Bridge, Inc. Tolls were henceforth removed upon the completion of the sale. Unfortunately during the same year a freighter rammed the bridge, tearing down a 240-foot segment of the bridge. Widenings occurred in 1959 on the Drum Island sections for a breakdown lane and in 1967 along the west end to add a lane for the approach to Charleston.
By 1979, deterioration forced the John C. Grace Bridge to see an 8-ton weight restriction levied on all vehicles. To compensate for the restriction the third eastbound lane of the adjacent Silas Pearman Bridge saw conversion into a westbound truck-only lane. The final weight restriction on the John C. Grace Bridge was 5 tons. Thus no truck traffic was permitted on the bridge at the end.
Silas Pearman Bridge
Dedicated to Chief Highway Commissioner Silas N. Pearman, the northbound U.S. 17 bridge opened to traffic on April 29, 1966 at a cost of $15 million. Preliminary construction began in 1961 and actual bridgework commenced in 1963. Featured on the newer bridge were three travel lanes comprising a 38-foot roadway. The old bridge only carried two ten-foot lanes. Of the three lanes, one was reversible if needed, allowing for two northbound and one southbound lane. The truck restriction on the southbound span saw the permanent reversal of the third lane for trucks only. The Silas Pearman Bridge deck resided 150 feet over the Cooper River and 135 feet over the adjacent Towne Creek.
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge
The new U.S. 17 bridge travels 186 feet above the high tide mark of the Cooper River. That height is almost 50 feet above that of the John C. Grace and Silas Pearman Bridges. During all phases of construction, both of the cantilever spans remained open to traffic. Toward the end of construction, the Ravenel Bridge actually traveled over the old bridges at a point near Drum Island. The spectacle of the bridge work acted as a tourist attraction for the city of Charleston. One and a half years of demolition work commences after the July 15, 2005 opening of the Ravenel Bridge on the John C. Grace and Silas Pearman Bridges will be dismantled. The bridge materials will be recycled or used offshore in the creation of artificial reefs.2
The Ravenel Bridge is named after South Carolina Senator and Congressman Arthur Ravenel Jr. Ravenel was one of the staunch proponents in the drive to finance and replace the aging Cooper River Bridges of U.S. 17, and he was able to do so without the implementing of tolls. Ravenel used his position in the South Carolina State Senate to successfully convince other officials to replace the bridges "before some great tragedy occurred," referring to the ailing John Grace Memorial Bridge. The span opened one year ahead of schedule, much to his credit.3
Upon completion of the new U.S. 17 cable stayed bridge the Septima Clark Expressway from Interstate 26 eastward to the cantilever bridges subsequently will be dismantled. A new interchange configuration carries traffic to South Carolina 703 (Coleman Boulevard) and to the Wingo Way Extension at Mount Pleasant from the Ravenel Bridge. High speed flyover ramps shuttle motorists to/from Interstate 26 to U.S. 17 via Exit 220. U.S. 17 follows Interstate 26 one half mile south of the new interchange to the original Septima Clark Expressway alignment. The eastern terminal interchange of Interstate 26 underwent changes to coincide with the bridge project. The Meeting Street and U.S. 17 southbound off-ramps (Exits 221A/B) remained as will the U.S. 17 northbound on-ramp to Interstate 26. All other ramps were closed and ramps to/from Morrison Drive now carry traffic from/to the new bridge.
Please see SCDOT's Cooper River Bridge Page for additional information.
U.S. 17 Highway Guides
- The Cooper River Bridge Site, South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT).
- "Bridge new chapter of Charleston history." The Charlotte Observer, July 17, 2005.
- "Massive Ravenel Bridge opens to traffic today." The Times and Democrat, July 18, 2005.
Page Updated July 19, 2005.