GDOT: New cables for Talmadge Bridge a temporary fix, long-term solution still undecided

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

This is a developing story.

The $175 million plan to replace the cables of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, thus raising it so that taller shipping vessels can access the Port of Savannah, is not a long-term fix, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The project is the first of its kind approved by the State Board of Transportation, which allows GDOT greater flexibility when it comes to designing and building with contractors. The new process, called Construction Manager/General Contractor, allows GDOT to consider alternative contracting method with an approved contractor during the entirety of a project, including the design and risk mitigation phases, according to a GDOT spokesperson.

Credit: Savannah Morning News, Savannah Morning News

Credit: Savannah Morning News, Savannah Morning News

So, instead of the cables merely being replaced, the CM/GC method will consider new technologies, design complexity and greater creativity in addressing existing problems, while optimizing the construction timeline.

The contracting method was approved by the State Legislature two years ago and will allow GDOT to work directly with cable bridge industry experts to seek solutions and implement much-needed maintenance on the 30-year-old bridge.

The total height the bridge will be raised ― if it can be raised at all ― will be decided in the coming years as the project kicks off. Pre-construction bids will go out at the end of this year, with a more concrete timeline of design and construction to come next year, according to GDOT.

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

ExploreThis plan would allow the bridge to stay open to traffic during construction.

Longer-term solutions for bridge

The Georgia Ports Authority directed all questions to GDOT, citing the lack of a long-term solution.

The state's approach does not replace the multi-year study GDOT is conducting to find a long-term solution to allow for larger vessels to pass under the state-line crossing, which includes replacing the bridge, moving its location, or raising the foundations of the existing bridge.

"At the current 185-foot clearance, the bridge limits efficient access for larger ships, which need to travel under the bridge to reach the Port of Savannah," a statement from GDOT said. "The challenge will be magnified in the coming decades as larger ships become increasingly common because of their fuel efficiency and lower overall operating costs."

The Talmadge Bridge opened to traffic in 1991 and replaced a 1950s-era cantilevered truss bridge.

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

Credit: Steve Bisson, Savannah Morning News

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he wasn't totally sure what this maintenance solution would entail, but he hopes GDOT will be mindful of the Talmadge Bridge's proximity to downtown Savannah and several neighborhoods.

"It appears that they found a solution that utilizes existing assets and new technology. And preliminarily, it looks like this could be a win-win," Johnson said. "It wouldn't close the bridge for a significant period of time, it wouldn't change the configuration of the city's assets on the southside of the bridge, so we're waiting to see how the rest of it plays out."

Zoe covers growth and investigations in the Savannah area. Find her at znicholson@gannett.com, @zoenicholson_ on Twitter, and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram. 

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: GDOT: New cables for Talmadge Bridge a temporary fix, long-term solution still undecided