Watch the Construction of the new Cooper River Bridge


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The Bridge Blog
A dialog about our new bridge and these web pages

Overview. As a pointy-headed university professor, my weekend project of bridge photography and building these web pages generated many questions and introduced me to just-in-time learning. I enjoy chasing my curiosity and want to identify ways to encourage younger learners to also enjoy curiosity chasing and learning.

Learning usually requires repetition while forgetting occurs when I infrequently use information. Many young learners do not understand the importance of repetition. Weekly visits to the bridge provided the repetition necessary to detect changes in the bridge and consequently generated many questions and opportunities for learning. Over the course of the bridge project, I had access to few experts for answering questions. Rather than a liability, this became an asset and pushed me to improve my search skills with Google. Soon, I found that answers to questions encountered during my weekly photo shoots were often only a Google-search away - (see Restoring the Joy in Learning). Consequently Google + Internet became dependable extensions of my memory.

The bridge story is a work in progress and is evolving from a simple collections of photographs to an experiment with Internet-centric just-in-time learning. Insights I gain from you will find their way into the learning centers of MUSC. Palmetto Bridge Constructors, a joint venture between Tidewater Skanska and Flatiron Constructors, as well as High Steel Structures, Freyssinet, the SCDOT and the Federal Highway Commission Office of Bridge Technology guided much of my learning. I also learn from many of you and from Google-linked resources. More important is the e-mail encouragement I receive from many of you.

Thu, 28 Apr 2005

April 28, 2005: Getting a presentation together

Looking at the photos from the past 21 months reminds me of how much change has occurred - in both the bridge construction as well as weather and light conditions. Typically I experienced early morning conditions from October to April and then switched to afternoon photos from November until May. This was primarily in response to the sun's position (in the morning) relative to the line connecting my photo spot with the new Cooper River Bridge. I experienced clear weather, cloudy weather, fog, rain and nearly hurricane conditions. By and large most of the details of the photo conditions are long lost memories - a result of the biologial forgetting process.

Looking at these photos reminds me of the rich variety of viewing conditions I experienced as well as the development of the bridge. Organizing them as a time lapse photo stream seems like an interesting way to view almost 2 years of fun. I have started with 3 compositions: growing the west span, growing the east span and reaching for the clouds while closing the gap.

posted at: 08:25 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 24 Apr 2005

April 24, 2005: Closing the loop

Way back in January, when there was a gap separating the east and west main spans, I took a photo of the crane used to lift edge and floor girders from barges to the deck and then hold them in place while the iron workers attached the splice plates.

Here is the "Last Dinosaur Standing" as seen from the old Pearman bridge. (Click to see the story about Philip and the Last Dinosaur Standing.) Yesterday I was taking some photos of the main span paving and two guys walked up and started talking - they were Philip and Lewis. Philip, I sort of knew because of email from his mom and wife. I had never met Lewis but had watched Lewis (and Jack) attach the splice plates that linked the north side of the east and west edge girders - thus bridging the gap.

But yesterday was special. I was able to meet both of them, talk a bit and for me, close the loop from distant observer to acquaintance. This closes another gap, the people gap, and enables my understanding of the bridge project at both the technical level as well as at the people level.

The bridge project has impressed me from the people perspective. I have come to know many people associated, either locally or remotely, with the building of the new Cooper River Bridge. First Bill Mankin from High Steel Structures, then David Wertz (SCDOT) then Wade Watson (PBC) then Peo Halvarsson (Skanska and PBC), Marvin Tallent (Flatiron and PBC) and Oliver Forget and his Freyssinet team, Wilbur Poole (PBC) and on and on the list goes. Everyone has helped me understand some aspect of our bridge project and has given generously of their time.

Helping me understand different components of bridge building has enabled me to convey what was happening on the main span and approaches with both the local Charleston community as well as our Internet community. What pleases me, from my MUSC perspective, is the opportunity to share the work product of my hyperactive curiosity with other members of the MUSC community as well as young learners outside MUSC (particularly with Jonnell at E. L. Frierson school (Wadmalaw)) - and illustrate the opportunities Google provides for building episodes of "just-in-time" learning. All these lessons help me better understand the IT infrastructure needs at MUSC that facilitate the paradigm shift from "just-in-case" learning (that is compromised by the the biology of the forgetting process) and "just-in-time" learning (which is much more immune to the forgetting process). The real winner is MUSC which now, thanks to my bridge friends, has a rather unconventional source of new insights into learning in general and Internet-centric learning in particular.

posted at: 15:31 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 22 Apr 2005

April 22, 2005: Springtime in Charleston

Yesterday while walking home from MUSC, the sun touched some spring flowers in a remarkable way. Similarly, last night we had an almost full moon. So here is springtime in Charleston. (And I do not yet have a firm date for when the new Cooper River Bridge will formally open. I shall post it here in our blog when I have a pretty firm date.)

posted at: 10:00 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 21 Apr 2005

April 21, 2005: Another kind of cable strand
As you know, I am chasing the question: What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything - as stated in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Said another way, is there life after our adventure with the new Cooper River Bridge?

Yesterday was simply chaos cubed. My primary web server (monitor) died while I was deleting some old files in order to free up some space. Obviously I deleted something that should not have been deleted - so from about 1pm until 4pm - my site was dead and I was frantic. Clearly, I needed a distraction.

Last night, Ellen and I had a quiet dinner and talked a bit about our projects. Now is when baby spiders start to appear in Charleston, so I went out about 7:30 pm looking for our evening spiders ( Neoscona hentzi or barn spider). These little wonders build their webs in the early evening and destroy them in the early morning - at least usually. I found a few babies (about 0.5 cm in diameter) in our garden and tried to take some photos, but the conditions were not good, a gentle breeze was blowing the spider and web in and out of the focal plane and I had no tripod. Knowing that they would still be there in the morning, I returned about 5:30am, with camera, tripod and chair. To my surprise one was rebuilding her web instead of unbuilding it. I set up the camera, found a good focus and with a flashlight to illuminate her, started taking photos. I got lucky and one photo showed her with a silk strand extending from her spinneret. Just like Freyssinet unwinding strands from a big spool of cable, these little wonders synthesize and extrude silk from a spinneret and build strands in an as yet unknown manner. So above is a photo of her, extruding a silk strand and her weaving. I am accumulating these images and a story which are available here. Earlier photos of a (large) adult Neoscona hentzi are here. And all of my spider (and underwater) photos can be found here.

Meanwhile, I have sent email to the Boston company that was awarded the contract to remove the old bridges - but so far, no reply but I am cautiously optimistic. No matter what, I plan to take a routine data set each week starting whenever.

posted at: 17:21 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 19 Apr 2005

April 19, 2005: What to do next?
Now that the two main spans have been joined and the two tower cranes have been disassembled very little change is visible from the S.C. Aquarium and from my bicycle as I ride across the old bridge. So continuing my weekly set of standard photos will bring us little new data. The work on the East Bay on ramp continues and I shall continue to track this. But I am rapidly running out of ideas. So, if you have a burning question, now is the time to add your input into our bridge project. Send me email with your ideas.

And another request. I am thinking about building a photo exhibit selected from the 6000+ photos I have taken over the past 18 months. The idea is to provide something interesting from an art perspective as well as an opportunity to see some of the temporal changes in major bridge features. The question again is what is interesting for all of you? I have thought about the following topics:

  • Monthly view of the two pylons and closing the gap. I have photos from August 2003 until now capturing most of this.
  • Building the east approach (as seen from my bicycle rides)
  • Building the east deck
  • Building the west deck
  • Building the west approach
  • Building a stay cable (Freyssinet)
  • Images that just happened - mostly photos that show aspects of the bridge in different light.
Lee, at Duncan and Parnell here in Charleston, can make large (4 ft. x whatever length) inkjet prints of image compositions. Lee has helped me with some test prints showing the time sequence of closing the gap on a textured paper that really brings the images to life. Exploring the presentation in this manner has challenged me - how to make this something other than a group of plain jane photos. Using textured paper amd organizing multiple images on the same paper brings something new to this presentation. I have also had Shutterfly print some test images in a large format: 11x14 and 16x20. Both sizes are amazing and there is no observable evidence that indicates the digital nature (5 megapixel) of the images. For me, this was a big surprise. So again - any ideas about the topics and image composition of such an exhibition that would make it interesting for you? What would grab your attention and attract you for a closer look? Again send me email with your ideas. I shall make an additional tab on the top menu bar of our bridge web pages so that you can see what I am thinking and display your suggestions. Thanks.

posted at: 05:58 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 13 Apr 2005

April 13, 2005: A bit of history
John Baxley, an aerial photographer from Springfield, SC, has found a bit of Cooper River Bridge history. Almost every visit I make to the new bridge coincides with a cargo ship or tanker sliding along the Cooper River and under the bridge. During the transition from a web site for my grandchildren to what it is today, I remember reading some discussion about the islands that were built at the base of the east and west pylons. Specifically, these islands were designed to be sufficiently large in diameter to prevent a ship from colliding with the pylon.

As a relatively newcomer to Charleston (we moved from Chapel Hill in 1998), I am not aware of much of the history and stories surrounding the older members of the Cooper River Bridge family. Many of you have told me stories of family experiences with the bridge that bring a personal touch to my understanding. However, thinking about the earlier lives of the Cooper River Bridges never clicked until John sent me this photo of a collision in 1946. Clearly, historical information is as important to our web project as today's images. Another nice contribution to our project. Thanks, John. And a P.S. Tim Linder frequently contributes to our project and dramatically improved the quality of the original image. Thanks to you also, Tim. Another P.S. - Jim Bogle from Columbia remembers the story of the collision of the Nicaragua Victory and the Grace Bridge as told by his parents. According to him, the Army rigged a Bailey Bridge until repairs could be done. The opportunities for walking across the Grace Bridge as I build the story of the Unbuilding of the Grace and Pearman Bridges are rapidly disappearing. With input from Jim and John - I shall be much more attentive to the Grace structure and see if there are any residual signs of the collision.

posted at: 11:24 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

April 1, 2005: A new project
Tim Linder has a great idea. What about collecting aerial and satellite images acquired during the construction of the new Cooper River Bridge. We found this image from the US Geological Survey (1999). In addition, the US Geological Survey has a very useful image browser. This link includes southern South Carolina. has a more recent (October 13, 2003) photo from GlobeXplorer at coordinates: Latitude: 32.8070077 , Longitude: -79.927839 .

Terraserver ( readily gave me permission to use their 2 meter (Oct 13, 2003) resolution image of the construction site. In addition, I found imagery at NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photogrphay of Earth. I have sent email to Spot Image in France, another source of satellite imagery. My experience is that "front" doors sometimes don't work as well as some "back" doors. So if any of you have some back door contacts with satellite imagery groups - send me email with your information. I shall build a new page of satellite imagery with what we are able to locate. Thanks

posted at: 23:55 | path: | permanent link to this entry

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