By Sarita Chourey –
South Carolina’s $15 million estimate to build a twin bridge over the Back River is a figure nearly equal to the reconstructed Back River Bridge that will go up first.
South Carolina’s cost projection, contained in meeting notes from a workshop last month, raises new questions about which agency and which state will pay for it.
A more immediate question is whether South Carolina officials can agree on how to pay for the widening of U.S. 17 from two lanes to four before inflationary costs and delays push the project out of reach.
“The project will be broken into two phases,” reads the Sept. 17 workshop notes from the Lowcountry Council of Governments. “The first phase will be the widening portion, while the second phase will be the twin bridge.”
South Carolina leaders had criticized Georgia’s plans to rebuild the 60-year-old Back River Bridge with only two lanes instead of four, warning that the future four-lane U.S. 17 feeding into a two-lane bridge would create a traffic jam. The four-mile stretch of U.S. 17 to be widened runs from the Georgia state line to S.C. 315.
For at least a year, the remedy for the feared bottleneck was said to be the construction of a “parallel structure” alongside the reconstructed, $16.4 million Back River Bridge.
In September Brent Rewis an official with the S.C. Department of Transportation said that additional bridge over the Back River adds an extra $15 million to the $53 million widening of U.S. 17, according to the workshop notes provided by the Council.
The comments were made during a gathering last month of more than a dozen elected officials from the region.
“If a funding plan was in place, Georgia would likely contribute a percentage to an additional bridge,” reads the workshop notes.
“(Rewis) also noted that Georgia would need to address improvements on Hutchison Island once a second bridge was built.”
On Tuesday, Georgia’s transportation agency was noncommittal.
“We can’t speculate on possible funding of potential projects. There are simply are too many variables,” said Georgia transportation spokesman Jill Nagel.
“The old bridge is being removed and any future design would not be hindered from appropriate roadway alignment on to Hutchison Island,” she said.
“We are not building anything that would prohibit a future tie in.”
On Thursday the Lowcountry Council of Governments board, representing Jasper, Beaufort, Colleton and Hampton counties, is scheduled to meet to hear the S.C. Department of Transportation present a new funding scenario for the U.S. 17 widening. The South Carolina transportation agency put forth an earlier funding proposal that would have paid for the Jasper County project but left a Hampton County widening plan unfinished. The Council rejected that scenario.
The new Back River Bridge, which will replace the yet-to-be-demolished structure, is projected to be finished by spring of next year. The construction contract was initially for $14.4 million but has been revised to $16.4 million.