O’Neal bridgework continues despite weather and traffic setbacks

by News Editor Anna Brown

Phase one of the construction of O’Neal Bridge is 33 percent complete, said Don Allen, the project superintendent.

Allen said the four-phase refurbishment project, which started March 19, has an estimated completion date of Dec. 30, 2017.

He said the first phase consists of sandblasting – the process used to clean the steel – and repainting.

“That will take the remainder of this year to finish that,” he said.

He said the construction will continue with concrete and electrical work on the top and bottom of the bridge.

Senior Blake Christy said he is glad the bridge is under repair.

“Over time, (structures like these) deteriorate and can become a safety issue if they are not maintained.”

Allen said they are planning to finish on time.

“We’re on schedule,” he said. “Weather and other things like that set us back, but we have gotten back on track.”

Allen said a main problem which has also caused some delays were issues with tractor-trailers.

“We have a reduced clearance,” he said. “The way that we get up to the steel to paint is we put up a cage of chain-link fence. When it rains occasionally it pushes it down. When the trucks come through, they catch the chain-link fence and rip out sections of it.”

Allen said it is important to know tractor-trailers are not allowed on the bridge.

“We have signs as you’re coming in town telling truckers not to use the bridge,” he said.

Florence Traffic Division Sergeant Chris Ticer said tractor-trailers also cause traffic problems.

“What happens is (tractor-trailers) will try to cross and get stuck,” he said. “We’ll have to back them up in traffic and shut down the whole road for a time period until we can get them off the bridge.”

Ticer said besides the problems with the tractor-trailers, there has not been very many traffic issues over the course of the construction.

“We haven’t noticed any increase in accidents, probably due to everybody having to slow down because of only having one lane open,” he said. “That’s probably made people pay a little bit more attention. If anything, there has been a decrease in wrecks.”

Ticer said traffic gets heavy at times.

“In the mornings and afternoons when people are going to work and getting off work is when the traffic gets the heaviest,” he said. “It picks up some around lunchtime as well.”

He said the best thing for drivers to do is to avoid the bridge and take another route.

“Drivers should use the Singing River Bridge instead,” he said. “It may not be the quickest way to go, but it will definitely be safer.”

Ticer said if drivers have to use the bridge, they need to be careful.

“The main thing for drivers to do is simply slow down and pay attention to what’s around them,” Ticer said.

“I’m pretty sure the construction is slowing down many people, but it will definitely help everybody at the end when it is finished,” said senior Brittany Leach