More traffic changes ahead this summer for the new Islands Expressway bridge

More traffic changes are ahead this summer as construction continues on the $64 million islands...
More traffic changes are ahead this summer as construction continues on the $64 million islands expressway bridge replacement project. A design change is expected to cost an additional $2.5 million and has delayed the completion by two years to the summer of 2023.(WTOC)
Updated: Mar. 25, 2021 at 1:04 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Commuters felt the pains of progress this week as lane closures returned for construction of the new Islands Expressway bridge.

Drivers can expect another big change this summer when the westbound bridge is completed. Car traffic will then shift onto the newly completed bridge. The shift will allow Prince Contracting to begin construction on the eastbound bridge, said Bryan Czech, district construction engineer in Jesup for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The project is technically a twin span bridge.

The eastbound bridge span will be built parallel to the westbound span and over the path of the existing draw bridge, which will then be demolished.

The $64 million bridge replacement project is along a major thoroughfare that connects downtown Savannah and the islands, which include Whitemarsh, Wilmington, Talahi and Tybee.

WTOC reported earlier this month the total cost of the bridge replacement project has increased by about $2.5 million because of a design change. The change also caused a two-year delay for the bridge completion. The new date is the summer of 2023.

“We understand people’s frustrations with the timeline of the bridge but we want to have a good bridge project. That’s the goal we want something that will last a lifetime.” Czech said.

He explained the design change was to resolve a settlement problem on the east embankment of the bridge.

“The designer had planned for up to two feet of settlement on the wick drain system with the embankment. We ended up getting two feet of settlement in places within the first third of the wall so we went back to the designer and decided we needed to do something different,” Czech said.

The fix added three more bridge spans to the westbound bridge and will make the same change to the eastbound bridge. It’s estimated to add at least $2.5 million to the total project cost.

As construction wears on, drivers can expect to see more concrete trucks on site, more bridge beams delivered and the completion of the MUC wall next to the Causton Bluff neighborhood, Czech said.

“Be aware of the traffic. Be aware of the construction, also be patient,” he said.

At times, it may appear as if no construction is happening, he added.

Some of the apparent idle time has to do with environmental restrictions. The contractor has a narrow window to work in the water because of the spawning and migration season for the Atlantic sturgeon and Shortnose sturgeon - a protected fish species.

April 30 is when work in the water can resume.

The existing Sam Varnedoe Bridge is one of the last of its kind in Coastal Georgia. The mechanics of the draw bridge are obsolete and it can only open twice a day to accommodate boat traffic on the Wilmington River, Czech said.

“Any time something breaks, they have to find a machinist to specifically make a part,” he said. “They just don’t make them to make them. It’s when something breaks they have to get something made to fix it, so that takes time.”

The other draw bridge remaining in Coastal Georgia is the Houlihan Bridge over the Savannah River. It’s the last swing span steel truss bridge in the state.

GDOT has a design in the works to replace it. A timeline has not been released.

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