The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is a cable stayed bridge over the Cooper River running from Charleston to Mount Pleasant in South Carolina. After beginning construction in 2001 it opened in July of 2005 to replace two outdated and deteriorating truss bridges, the Grace and Pearman Bridges, on US Highway 17. From Charleston, Route 17 first crosses Town Creek onto Drum Island, where the actual bride begins on the northbound side.
At 2.5 miles long, it is the longest cable stay bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Cable stay bridges uses cables attached to towers to support a roadway. Most of the longest cable stay bridges are in Asia, with the longest in China. There, the Sutong Bridge measures 3,570 feet, more than twice the length of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina. This bridge ranks in the top thirty longest cable stay bridges in the world, with the Alex Fraser Bridge in Canada being the only other bridge in North America on the top thirty list. This has made it a popular destination for fans of both construction and engineering in the United States.
The bridge's namesake, Arthur Ravenel Jr., became a South Carolina state senator under a promise to get the new bridge funded. The effort started in 1995 when the Grace bridge received a disastrously low safety rating. In the end, the total cost of building the new bridge, which has been featured on the television show Extreme Engineering, was near $700 million and came in under budget and ahead of schedule.
The final design of the bridge, with the diamond towers, was chosen by public consensus. The diamond towers extend 575 feet above the road. Cables on the bridge can hold over 500 tons and there are 128 cables in total on the bridge. The strongest cables on the bridge are comprised of 90 separate seven-wire strands that are formed together. A poly-ethylene pipe surrounds the cables to provide protection from natural elements.
The road its self is located at a height 200 feet above the average high tide line, allowing for swells and abnormalities. The bridge is eight lanes wide and features a side lane for walkers, runners and bicyclists. This path is over two miles long and extends from Patriots Point Road on the Mount Pleasant side to East Bay Street on the Charleston side. The slope of the path is between 1.8% and 5.6%.
With an eye towards stability the bridge was designed by Parsons Brinckerhoff to withstand hurricanes, earthquakes and shipwrecks. The bridge can tolerate wind gusts up to 300 miles per hour, which is much stronger than the destructive winds of Category 4 Hurricane Hugo in 1989 when it struck coastal South Carolina with high winds of 160 miles per hour. This bridge is also thought to be capable of withstanding a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. One-acre rock islands surrounding the towers protect the bridge from shipwrecks.
Every spring the Cooper River Bridge Run attracts runners for a 10K race. The race begins on the Mount Pleasant side of the bridge and ends at Marion Square in Charleston. A limit of 40,000 entrants is set for the annual race. It is a combined race for both walkers and runners, but there are separate races for kids up to age 13 that range in distance from 25 yards to 1 mile. For every day walkers, joggers and bikers there is a parking lot available for just such a use.