Occasionally, communities come together to celebrate the completion of a significant piece of infrastructure. More rarely, communities take note of the anniversary of a noteworthy structure. That is what happened recently in Charleston, South Carolina, when the local populace celebrated the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
The unusual community event was organized by the local newspaper, The Post and Courier, and included local officials, members of the team that designed and built the bridge, and local residents.
As the designer of the majestic cable-stayed structure over the Cooper River, WSP USA was there, represented, among others, by our design manager on the project, Mike Abrahams, who was also celebrating what he considers the pinnacle of his five-decade engineering career.
“To many, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is more than just a bridge,” wrote The Post and Courier in an article on the bridge’s anniversary. “Many people view it as an emblem of modern Charleston … They say it has helped businesses thrive, added a new dimension to the skyline, and reshaped the way we think about transportation, infrastructure and exercise.”
From the very beginning, the local populace was deeply involved in the planning, design and construction of the 2.5-mile-long, eight-lane bridge that connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant. During public hearings, residents expressed their preference for diamond-shaped towers and pressed for the addition of a walkway/bikeway that has proved hugely popular. When the bridge opened in July of 2005 as the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America, Charleston threw a week-long party, including fireworks and a black-tie gala with a performance by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra on the bridge deck.
A decade later, the community’s enthusiasm for the bridge has not diminished, as evidenced during the turnout for a two-day festival July 17-19 at Patriots Point, which offered various activities, including parties, concerts and the opportunity to take part in building a large-scale LEGO® model of the bridge.
During the anniversary event, Abrahams recalled that the Ravenel Bridge was intended to replace two outmoded bridges built in 1929 and 1966, but gradually consensus emerged that the new bridge should be a landmark of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.
“When we started the design we envisioned this as a solution to an engineering problem—how do you replace two decrepit bridges that were inadequate, one of which was potentially unsafe, and a source of accidents. We were going to solve that engineering problem,” Abrahams says. “But as it evolved, the project certainly became an icon … and now, of course, it’s a beloved part of the community.”
The challenges of designing the bridge were considerable, according to Abrahams. “Charleston is an area of very high seismicity; in fact, it rivals that of some areas of southern California,” he says. “Also, Charleston regularly gets exposed to hurricanes, and as one of the largest ports on the East Coast, there are huge ships traveling through the channel. So all of those elements had to be dealt with in the design process.”
The project was successful, according to Abrahams, because of the unusual degree of cooperation among the project team, including the owner, the South Carolina Department of Transportation; and the design-builder, Palmetto Bridge Constructors, a joint venture of Tidewater Skanska and Flatiron Constructors. WSP was designer to the design-build team.
Abrahams warmly praised the contributions of our firm’s project team, in particular Lori Hesprich, the on-site project manager during construction; Dan Carrier, project manager during the design phase; and Fred Parkinson, who was instrumental throughout the design and construction process.
“One of the most wonderful things about project was the way that everybody worked together for a common goal,” Abrahams says. “Everybody had the same objective in mind … Whatever needed to be done, whatever was the right thing to do, that’s what we were going to do … It was everybody working together to get the job done … and we finished a year ahead of schedule.”
For Abrahams, the Ravenel Bridge was a standout project of his 46 years with this company. “Personally, this was probably the height of my career. I’ve not done anything that can equal this as something that has such significance to the community.”
Returning to that community for the 10th anniversary celebration was an emotional occasion not only for Abrahams, but also for his wife, Elena, who was moved to tears as the couple drove over the bridge to Charleston. “She lived through every moment of it and she knows what went into this bridge, and to see how much she appreciated it was probably the most important thing to me.”