Inlet bridge should be open by the end of January

On Dec. 2, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) officials gave State Senator Tom Carper an update and tour of the Indian River Inlet Bridge as it nears completion.

Coastal Point •  Maria Counts: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper gets a tour of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge on Friday, Dec. 2, as well as information on the progress of the bridge.Coastal Point • Maria Counts
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper gets a tour of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge on Friday, Dec. 2, as well as information on the progress of the bridge.

“We are in kind of the final stages of getting the bridge prepared to open to traffic,” explained Jay Erwin, project manager for the design builder Skanska. “We still have a fair amount of work left to go. Finishing work, these things that need to happen in order to open the bridge to traffic and in order to close out the traffic.”

Carper said that the bridge is an important symbol for Delaware tourism and a healthy economy.

“A major role of government is to provide a nurturing environment for job creation and job preservation. A big part of that is infrastructure — roads, highways and bridges. That’s important here for two pillars here of our economy in Delmarva. One is agriculture, especially poultry. Second is tourism. Transportation infrastructure, if people can’t get to the beaches, they’re not going to come here.

“This is a big part of the infrastructure that keeps our economy moving. People don’t always think of it in those terms but I do. Most important thing you can do for somebody is make sure they have a job. This is a critical link for us. It took a while to get here but we can almost see the finish line.”

The bridge is scheduled to open to traffic, limited to two lanes by the end of January 2012, with the full four lanes open by Memorial Day of 2012.

“The majority of the delay was weather events and the form traveler system that we were using, there were some additional changes that needed to be made and they ended up taking several months,” said Doug Robb, DelDOT Project Manager.

Another cause for delay was due to geotechnical errors related to the original approach embankments for the prior bridge design original contractor. In January of this year, the State of Delaware filed a lawsuit against the contractor for their discrepancies on the project.

“The state filed a lawsuit against the original contractor for the bridge,” explained Geoff Sundstrom, DelDOT deputy director of public relations. “In particular, there was an action in it integral to a company called MACTEC that did the geological work on the original bridge and the attorneys for that sub had filed a couple of motions to dismiss and the County Superior Court — it is my understanding that those motions have been dismissed. So the lawsuit is continuing and, as these things go, it may be quite some time before we get to court, if we end up in court.”

Carper stated that the state’s issues with the former contractors have been tumultuous to Delawareans but is pleased that action has been taken.

“It’s more than an annoyance. It’s more than an inconvenience. It’s a waste of taxpayer money. The state of Delaware has brought a lawsuit against the original contractor… That’s being litigated and it is my hope that it will be successful.”

Erwin said that there is still some work to be done to the bridge, but it will not be as visibly noticeable as previous work.

“Now, comes a lot of the little things that aren’t as visible… we’ve still got a fair amount of work to do on our cable stay instillation… putting in the deviators that close it up to the pylons, the dampers that keep the stay system from becoming excited.”

Currently, the bridge is undergoing a 1-inch overlay of the bridge deck with a polyester polymer concrete material that has predominantly been used on the west coast.

“That’s put on over the bridge deck just to protect the bridge deck from the elements,” explained Erwin. “It’s a removable and replaceable material that could be milled off many years down the road and replaced and it becomes a protective barrier for the concrete section of the deck. To keep winter salts, and deicing chlorides from damaging the main component of the deck structure itself.”

“One of the advantages of this is that it’s very impermeable. When the road salt goes down for deicing, it’s not going to penetrate this material. It’s not going to get down into the concrete. If we have micro cracking in the concrete we don’t have to worry about erosion, this gives us an apt level of protection,” said Robb.

He added that the surface would also be covered with a layer of sandy material, which would give added traction and skid resistance, important to the surface.

Erwin said that the bridge itself has a life expectance of 100 years, with overlay expected to last anywhere from 20 to 30 years. He also said that another milestone for the bridge would be when the tower cranes are removed on Dec. 15.

“The landscape will change significantly when you drive down SR 1. The predominant sight right now is kind of this tall tower crane. It will then become the structure itself and the pylon tower.”

He also noted that over the past several weeks the installation of the barrier walls has been progressing.

“That’s a concrete barrier base with a steel moore aesthetically viewable rail on top of that. The openness allows the driver coming across the roadway or the pedestrian walking down the pedestrian walkway to see the landscape. That’s the beautiful part of this area, is to be able to see the oceanfront on one side and see the inlet and points out toward the west.”

Erwin also said that some electrical work is also ongoing. He said that there are three types of lighting systems on the bridge, including aviation lighting on the pylon towers, the stays, and directional lighting for the inlet channel.

“The stays themselves, they will be from bridge deck elevation, there’ll be a directional lighting pointing up every other stay, to enhance the color of the stays and just bring that out during the night. That lighting is going to be blue, as well as the stay itself is blue.

“There’s also navigation lighting over the channel. Actually, the channel width is going to increase with the removal of the existing structure. The horizontal clearance on the existing channel, because of the existing structure, I think is 100 feet. That’s going to increase to 200 feet with the demolition of the existing bridge.”

As for the old bridge, Robb said that demolition could start as soon as it is closed to traffic.

“That’s going to be roughly a five-, six-month process. It will be removed in its entirety, down about 25 feet below the water level. Concrete is going to be taken out to a reef site just 10 miles off the coast. And then all the structural steel is going to be sold for salvage by the contractor,” he said, adding, “This is a unique bridge that we’re tearing down. You try to get as much salvage value out of the materials as you can. As part of our permit requirements, we’ve made commitments to help with this reef development that the Corps of Engineers and DelDOT have been working towards. This is a good opportunity to do that with the concrete waste.”

Robb said that the project is expected to come it at its $150 million budget.

“It’s enormously satisfying to see a project, to work on a project since its inception, creating a design and putting together the funding. Eighty percent of this bridge is being paid for by federal funding,” added Carper.

With the bridge nearing completion and slated to open to a full four lanes of traffic by Memorial Day of 2012, officials say they are pleased with the results.

“We’re pleased with our progress,” said Erwin.

“It’s nice to know the bridge is going to be here for a long time,” Carper added.