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April 29
Suit Filed to Halt SCDOT Bridge Project on U.S. 601 in Richland County Denied by Federal Court Judge

Project to replace a series of bridges on U.S. 601 that touch the flood plain of the Congaree National Park will continue

 

 

            Legal action filed by the “Friends of Congaree Swamp” against the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) was denied on April 27, 2011 by United States District Court Judge Margaret B. Seymour. The suit asked the court to permanently halt construction of the project due to environmental concerns. The ruling issued in Columbia, South Carolina allows work to continue on the U.S. 601 bridge replacement project in Richland County that runs through the flood plain of the Congaree River and the Congaree National Park.

 

          The $32.9 million dollar project is designed to replace a series of four bridges and expand causeways on the existing highway. One structure is the U.S. 601 bridge over the Congaree River. Three bridges serve as overflow bridges between SC 48 and the Congaree River in Richland and Calhoun Counties.

 

          All of the current bridges were built in the 1940s and all are classified as “structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.” These designations mean that the structures have significant safety and repair needs and are insufficient for the volume of traffic they carry.

 

          Transportation Secretary Robert J. St. Onge, Jr. said the court’s decision was a win for the public as well as SCDOT. “SCDOT can now complete this project within the original budget, and the public will have four new bridges that meet current design and safety standards to use on this major route,” said St. Onge.

 

          One of the environmental concerns stemming from the legal action was the wetlands impact. SCDOT conducted an environmental assessment and held public hearings on the findings. Following a review, SCDOT was given notice by FHWA that the project would have no significant impact on the quality of the environment. The work will require the filling of 8.22 acres of wetlands, but will restore approximately 7.32 acres that were filled to support the bridges built in the 1940s. The impact of newly filled wetlands will be approximately 0.9 acres.  

 

          SCDOT Deputy Secretary for Engineering John V. Walsh said the enhanced safety provided by the completed project expected in June 2013 is not the only significant feature that benefits the public. Walsh said the project was designed so that traffic can continue to use the existing bridges during construction. “We are using the existing path of the old bridges. We have enough right-of-way to build the new bridges adjacent to the old ones so that they can remain open. Otherwise, the detour created would have been approximately 70 miles,” Walsh said. The Deputy Secretary noted that one bridge will require closing, but not until a temporary detour bridge is built next to it.

 

          Improvements that will be provided by this project include:

 

·         4.2 miles of new roadway and bridges

·         The existing roadways will expand from two 11-foot lanes with 2-foot shoulders to 12-foot lanes and 10-foot shoulders to improve safety.

·         SCDOT has coordinated with the SC Department of Natural Resources to construct a new boat ramp and expand the parking at the Bates Bridge Landing on the Congaree River.

·         Approximately 245 feet of bridging will be added to Bridge Number 2 to make passage for wildlife between the causeways easier. The added bridging will also enhance the flow of water.

 

          SCDOT awarded this project to United Contractors in June of 2010. Construction began in August 2010. The project is expected to be complete in June of 2013.

 

Photo links:

http://www.scdot-transfer.org/SCDOTPhotos/601CongareeBridge.jpg

http://www.scdot-transfer.org/SCDOTPhotos/601CongareeBridge2.jpg

Photo captions:

An aerial view of US601 over the Congaree River.