The Georgia Dept. of Transportation is advancing plans to replace the Talmadge Memorial Bridge with a new Savannah River crossing to allow larger container ships to access the Port of Savannah. GDOT officials say they have narrowed their focus to building either a tunnel or a bridge with more clearance at the same location, and aim to pick between the two alternatives this year.

The Talmadge Bridge is a 1.9-mile-long cable-stayed bridge with an 1,100-ft main span carrying State Route 404 and US 17 between Savannah and Hutchinson Island. It was completed in 1991 to replace an earlier cantilever truss bridge. 

The bridge remains structurally sound, according to GDOT. However, the Port of Savannah, which claims to be the fastest-growing U.S. port, is currently limited from accepting the largest modern container ships because of the bridge’s 185-ft clearance over the river. GDOT and the port want to accommodate larger ships to facilitate continued growth.

GDOT previously considered 27 potential alternatives in six categories, but has narrowed the possibilities down to the bridge and tunnel options. Officials say either option would have only moderate impacts to vehicular and vessel traffic during construction and potentially some environmental impacts, compared to likely significant impacts from other considered options such as rerouting traffic or modifying the existing bridge.

Officials are compiling the feedback from a month-long public comment period and aim to present a concept for the preferred alternative this fall, says Jill Nagel, GDOT southeast district communications officer.

The tunnel option would likely be a parallel pair of 50-ft-diameter bores, each for two lanes of traffic. The new bridge alternative would be built adjacent to the existing bridge, with a 230-ft clearance. Officials have not determined whether it would be another cable-stayed bridge or a different type. Implementation of either option would take between nine and 11 years from allocation of federal construction funding. 

“This is the first step in a 100-step journey,” Nagel says.

The new Savannah River crossing is not the only work planned that could help accommodate larger vessels. GDOT is also nearing the start of work on a $189-million maintenance project that would replace cables, bridge bearings and bridge joints. The interim infrastructure improvement is expected to be able to slightly raise the bridge’s clearance by using shorter cables.

Parsons Transportation Group is the designer of record for that project, and in December GDOT awarded a $6.5-million construction manager/general contractor contract for preconstruction services to Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. Construction is slated to start early next year.