Del. Hopes to Reopen Part of Bridge by Labor Day - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Hopes to Reopen Part of Bridge by Labor Day

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(Photo: CBS) (Photo: CBS)
WILMINGTON, Del. (WBOC/AP)- Delaware's transportation chief says officials are hoping to reopen the southbound lanes of an important interstate bridge by Labor Day.

Officials closed the Interstate 495 bridge spanning the Christina River on June 2 because supporting columns are tilting. The bridge typically carries about 90,000 vehicles a day.

Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said Tuesday at a media briefing that officials hope the northbound lanes would reopen a few weeks later.

“The timeline that we are announcing today is only possible because we have acted quickly to mobilize firms and personnel that have a proven track record of reopening critical transportation infrastructure under deadline pressure,” Bhatt said, adding that equipment, materials and expertise are on the way to Delaware. Plans include drilling new foundations to bedrock.

Casings for concrete shafts are on their way from Oklahoma and Washington state.

Bhatt said the first phase of construction to reopen the bridge is estimated to cost $20 million, while the cost of permanently fixing the problem is not yet certain.

Regarding potential causes and when the problem with the bridge was first detected, Bhatt said, “A lot of the questions we’re receiving right now are about what caused the bridge to tilt, whether it should’ve been closed sooner, and when did DelDOT know about the tilt.

"I want to be clear that we will do a thorough analysis of agency actions and the causes that led to this situation," Bhatt continued. " We will do so in a transparent manner by sharing our findings publicly. However, the major focus of our efforts as an agency right now is to get this bridge reopened as safely and quickly as possible.”

While that repair work continues, DelDOT has started the process of examining other bridges throughout Delaware for problems.

It is going to be a long process. Engineers have a number of bridges to check. DelDOT maintains nearly 1,600 bridges. More than 500 of those are beam bridges with support columns, like the one on I-495.

Inspectors are using a triage system to determine which to look at first. DelDOT started its inspections with approximately 30 bridges that most closely resemble the closed I-495 bridge, meaning over 500 ft. and not next to wetlands or built on an embankment.

That list includes six bridges in Kent and Sussex Counties, like the one on DE 9 over the Leipsic River and the much larger Indian River Bridge.

"We have literally gone out and looked at all of those bridges. All of them have been visually inspected and are being measured. There are no signs of distress on those," said Sec. Shailen Bhatt.

Bhatt says in some cases there were materials or vehicles near the bridges. The department has asked for those to be moved.

This is just the first batch of inspections. The next group will be similar but smaller bridges - 200 to 500 ft. In length.

"We will go to every single one. And as a part of our bridge inspection protection protocol, please keep in mind, we inspect our bridges every two years," Bhatt said.

There were concerns going into this past weekend, in terms of the impact the I-495 closure would have on beach traffic. Officials tell wboc there was definitely back up and congestion. But that's also to be expected on Friday and Sunday no matter what roads are open or closed.

For the latest DelDOT updates on the I-495 bridge, click here.


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