COLUMBIA, S.C. — Plans to build a new Back River Bridge are moving more slowly than planned but also more cheaply.
The project, initially estimated to cost $16.5 million, is now pegged at $14.7 million. As for the timeline, Georgia transportation officials had expected the bidding process to be under way in June. But agency spokeswoman Jill Nagel said Thursday contractors may now submit bids in March of next year. There was no immediate explanation for the drop in cost.
Since 2007, officials have been planning to replace the nearly 60-year-old Back River Bridge on U.S. 17., which links Savannah and Jasper County.
Georgia and South Carolina transportation departments are working together on the project, although Georgia will pay 90 percent, while South Carolina pays 10 percent. They will also tap about $9 million in federal funds.
The permitting process moved forward last month when the Charleston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a key Department of the Army permit. The corps has stipulated that if work isn’t finished by Sept. 30, 2017, the agencies will have to apply for an extension.
In mid-July federal officials said they couldn’t issue the Department of the Army approval until South Carolina’s environmental agency had met its regulatory requirements.
Days later, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management granted the two states a critical area permit and coastal zone consistency certification.
As for any outstanding approvals, Nagel said officials are still waiting for a final salt marsh credit from the state of Georgia.
The intricate permitting process is tied to the sensitive location of the bridge: Construction will require placing fill material in 1.65 acres of tidal wetlands and temporarily clearing about one-third of an acre of wetlands.
The new bridge will be built just west of the original one and will stand 3 feet higher. There will be a southbound deceleration lane for the exit onto Hutchinson Island and a northbound deceleration lane for an access road on the east side of U.S. 17 in South Carolina.
In the meantime, although permitting documents refer to the bridge as “structurally deficient,” state officials have said it remains sound enough to cross.
Motorist behaviors present a separate hazard.
On Tuesday of last week, a rush-hour wreck involving three vehicles north of the state line in South Carolina closed the bridge for six hours.
Area media reported that an 80-year-old man was charged with reckless driving after he tried to pass another vehicle but collided with an oncoming car. A tractor trailer then crashed into the bridge railing, causing damage.
It is unclear whether the bridge’s aged condition contributed to the wreck.
The original bridge will stay open while the new one is being built.