One way to solve the Talmadge Bridge controversy? Build a new one

A cargo ship on the Savannah River passes under the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. AJC file
A cargo ship on the Savannah River passes under the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge. AJC file



The fight to rename the Talmadge Memorial Bridge didn’t come up at the Georgia Ports Authority’s annual budget briefing to lawmakers. But an ambitious project underway could put a damper on any movement to rechristen it.

Griff Lynch, the head of the Georgia Ports Authority, told lawmakers Wednesday that planning is underway to replace the bridge in roughly a decade.

He's floated this idea for months, saying it's essential to help the booming Savannah port to attract the ever-growing container ships that need more clearance.

“We’ll be talking about this in the years to come – it’s probably about $1 billion in cost,” Lynch told legislators. “If you’d like the ports to continue to be what they are now, this is something we’re going to have to figure out.”

The bridge, which connects Savannah to South Carolina, first opened in 1991 and fast became a signature landmark on the coastal city's skyline. But it's also sparked a backlash for its namesake: Eugene Talmadge, a staunch segregationist elected to three terms as governor starting in the 1930s.

Savannah's political leaders urged state legislators last year to ditch the bridge's nameBacked by a small army of Girl Scouts, Republican state Rep. Ron Stephens, who represents a portion of the city, unsuccessfully proposed renaming it for Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, a Savannah native.

That may all be a moot point if the bridge is fated to be replaced.

Lynch told legislators the port plans to handle millions more tons of shipments a day by 2028, but won’t be able to do so without a bridge with a higher road deck to allow a new class of jumbo ships to chug by underneath. Another possibility, he added, is by digging a tunnel beneath the riverbed.

Legislative leaders thanked him for the advance warning – and seemed relieved they weren’t asked to pony up any cash for the bridge quite yet.

“We can always go back to a draw bridge if we need to,” said state Rep. Terry England, the head of the House’s budget-writing committee.

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