Islands Expressway Bridge to open this summer for car traffic

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 4:15 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Soon drivers will have an elevated view over the Wilmington River.

The new Islands Expressway Bridge is nearing the halfway point of construction and is expected to open to car traffic by early August.

“It sure is a milestone,” said Randy Rhodes, Area Engineer in Savannah with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The milestone moment is not just because of the engineering feat, but also because soon drivers and boaters will no longer have to wait for the old Sam Varnedoe Bridge, a double draw bridge, to open and close over the busy Intracoastal Waterway.

The changes for drivers will happen overnight, Rhodes explained.

“It will be a single lane in each direction, so really other than that it won’t be much different,” he said.

The re-route over the new bridge will allow construction crews to get to work on a second bridge, nearly identical to the one just built.

The massive state-managed project has been underway since 2018, but not without challenges and ongoing delays.

Soil stability issues with the first bridge led to an expensive design change - pushing up the total price tag up by $10 million to about $74 million dollars. It’s also added an extra year to the project completion date, expected by the spring of 2024.

As Rhodes explained, the lessons learned will go a long way.

The challenge with the first bridge: The location of it is farther into the marsh, he said. GDOT does not anticipate similar issues with the second bridge since it will be built over the old roadbed of the draw bridge.

As crews get ready for the transition, Rhodes asked drivers in the area to remain vigilant.

“It’s just the new traffic pattern and being cautious of workers on foot and equipment moving,” he said. “We’ve still got a whole other bridge to build, so just be patient moving through the work zone and this will benefit the community in the end.”

Once traffic is on the new bridge, it will take several months to demolish the old draw bridge.

Until then, the draw bridge will remain fixed in the open position to allow boat traffic to move through at any time, Rhodes said.

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