Hwy 34 bridge being rebuilt… again

Reconstruction of bridge over Little River on Highway 34 between Winnsboro and Blair. | Barbara Ball

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – So, what’s the deal with the seemingly never-ending construction project on the new bridge over the Little River on State Highway 34 in Fairfield County?

Apparently, the engineering consultant procured by the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to design the new 418 foot bridge really messed up – enough that the highway contractor building the bridge is having to demolish part of it and build it again.

Due to a design flaw discovered during testing, constructions was stopped in November, 2019, and the new bridge is being partially demolished and rebuilt to better standards, said Pete Poorer, director of communications for SCDOT.

“As the new bridge construction was nearing completion, SCDOT ran tests to confirm that it met design criteria. The testing revealed that though the bridge was built according to the plans, the design failed to meet stringent design criteria,” Poorer said in an emailed statement.

“In an abundance of caution, the Department directed the consultant to redesign the bridge to proper standards at no cost. Currently the contractor is demolishing the substandard portions of the bridge and will begin reconstruction when completed.”

Poorer said construction began in May, 2017, on the original replacement project which is taking place beside the existing bridge.

According to the National Bridge Inventory, a federal database which compiles information about bridges nationwide, the original bridge at this location was built in 1929, and the current one was built in 1967.

The existing bridge, which is being replaced, is a 395-foot concrete bridge consisting of three spans, about 11 miles west of Winnsboro.

Poorer said the new bridge construction began after the highway department determined that building a new one would be a better deal than paying for increased maintenance costs on the old one.

“The replacement of this bridge was identified as a priority of the Department due to the current structure nearing the end of its useful design life. The structure is in no danger to the public in its current state; however, the cost for maintaining the structure is no longer prudent,” Poorer said.

The new bridge, as initially designed and constructed, likewise posed no threat to the motoring public, he said, but concerns arose with regard to increased future maintenance costs that would be required due to the design flaw that was discovered.

The redesigned and reconstructed new bridge is expected to be open to traffic in summer 2022.

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