Ravenel bridge not cracking up

From left, Gina Kirchner, Mercedes Faltynski and Kirchner's husband, Donald Kirchner, all of Mount Pleasant, walk past a concrete anchor last week on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The concrete anchor is one of several whose minor cracks are being repaire

Acupuncturists appear to have descended upon the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, with dozens of pencil-size plastic tubes poking out from concrete caps where the cables meet the road.

"It looks like some sort of science project," said Elise Wallace of Mount Pleasant, who instantly noticed the work as she walked the bridge last week.

Kellie White, Wallace's walking partner, said the maintenance work is puzzling given that the prominent bridge hasn't even celebrated its fourth birthday yet.

"It is a little funny," she said. "We're using glue and straws to hold this bridge together."

The ongoing work isn't exactly holding the bridge together, but it should help ensure that the $632 million structure — the nation's longest cable-stayed bridge — lasts as long as intended, said Robert Clark, a district engineering administrator with the S.C. Department of Transportation.

Skanska, the company that was part of the private entity that built the bridge, is making the repairs at no charge under its warranty agreement with the state, Clark said.

The work began in December and could end within a week or two.

Most of this work has been less visible and involved replacing the lateral bearings — large rubber shock absorbers beneath the roadbed designed to cushion the tower and roadbed during earthquakes and hurricanes.

But those walking or biking the bridge are much more apt to notice the repair of hundreds of hairline cracks, on the concrete caps and on the bike lane surface, where new patches resemble wet spots but in fact are fresh epoxy. The repairs will prevent water from entering these cracks, which in turn could rust the steel reenforcement bars, causing them to expand and weaken the bridge.

"We want to try to keep as much water out as we can. That's it," Clark said. "We want it to be a 100-year bridge for sure, so we're trying to be pro-active and make sure we address these things in a timely way."

Samoun Butler of North Charleston and Sharlyn Singleton of Charleston also noticed the work during their walk, but it led to more questions than concerns on their part.

"I wondered what they were doing," Singleton said.

Clark said the entire bridge was inspected last summer, and the state found nothing out of the ordinary.

"Usually in concrete, and particularly where you have masses of concrete like this, you get some shrinkage and cracking," he said. "It's stuff that was suspected or not surprising."