Representatives from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) spoke to members of the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 3 about the progress of both the Indian River Inlet Bridge project and the Route 26 Mainline improvements project.
Doug Robb, DelDOT project manager for the Indian River Inlet Bridge project, said that the project had moved well forward in recent weeks.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve achieved two very significant milestones. First off, about two weeks ago we got to a point where we connected the two sides, and, as you can tell, they did align, to my relief,” he said with a laugh, noting that the second of two bridge-building form travelers was also removed.
Robb said that the $150 million project for the half-mile-long bridge has been in the construction phase for approximately three years.
“We’re actually under-budget with the bridge. We’re going to be right at or under that,” he noted.
He said that DelDOT had been hearing a lot of concern from residents who thought that the two sides of the bridge would not line up. Robb said that the visible difference in height of the two ends was due to the removal of the first form traveler, which, according to DelDot’s Web site is, “a large piece of equipment that, once assembled and attached to the edge of the bridge deck, will allow the bridge deck to be built over the inlet.”
“That form traveler weighed 300 tons. We had a form traveler coming from each side. Before we took the one off, they were lining up quite well. When we took one off, it came up about 2 feet. That was the primary difference for the weight difference. In addition to that… there was a 100-ton crane sitting on it as well,” he said.
“It was all anticipated,” he assured Chamber members this week. “Once those loads were removed, it lined up better than expected, actually. On one edge we were within one-eighth of an inch, and the other side was dead on… We were real pleased with that.”
Robb said that, although the bridge itself has now been connected, there is still plenty left to do before the bridge is opened to traffic. He noted that the stays – the 152 cables supporting the bridge deck – had a lot of final tweaking yet to be done.
“Right now, even though it’s connected, the bridge isn’t quite the shape we want,” he explained. “Even though it’s concrete, it’s very flexible. So we’re going through and doing a survey of the entire structure, seeing where it is right now.
“And we’ll go back through and have our engineers analyze it and determine how we need to make adjustments to create the shape we want,” he said, comparing the process to that of tuning a guitar. “We’re just trying to find that perfect tension on there to get it exactly the length and the shape we want to create that ride we want.”
He added that a dampening system also needs to be installed, to make sure that the cables won’t vibrate under heavy winds.
Some other final touches include the installation of the electrical and lighting systems, as well as removing the tower cranes. Concrete barriers also must be poured on the bridge, and a special overplay of polyester polymer concrete will be placed on the roadway, which will likely occur by the end of December.
“It’s going to be one inch thick. It’s basically like glue. That’s what you’re actually going to drive on. It’s going to be placed over the entire concrete surface,” he explained.
“It’s something that is relatively new to DelDOT,” Robb noted. “We’re using it up on I-95 on some of our bridges. It’s on the bay bridge out in San Francisco. It’s on a lot of major structures. It is an expensive material, but it will help this bridge last the way we want. So we are making that investment.”
Robb said that the bridge will have a dedicated 12-foot-wide walkway on the east side, ocean side for pedestrians and bikes that will be accessible from either side of Delaware Seashore State Park.
With the roadway approaches to be finished in December, Robb said that the current schedule is to open the bridge to traffic on Jan. 12, with one lane of traffic moving in each direction, initially. He said that DelDOT hopes to open the bridge to the full four lanes of traffic closer to Memorial Day of 2012.
“We are going to get there. It’s definitely coming,” he said. “It’s very close to being open.”
As for the removal of the old bridge, Robb said that there is no “urgency in getting it out.”
“One of the questions we get asked a lot is, ‘What’s going to happen to the bridge? Are you going to blow it up?’ We are not going to blow it up. No explosives. It won’t be that exciting.”
He said that contractors will remove the bridge, starting from the top and working their way down, beginning with the removal of the concrete barriers and deck, which will go into an artificial reef site. He said that all the structural steel from the bridge will go to salvage.
Route 26 improvement project moving slowly
DelDOT Project Manager Tom Banez also addressed Chamber members about the progression of the Route 26 Mainline Project.
“Currently, we are in two phases of the project, design and acquisition, and we are nearing the end of both of those phases,” he said. “Our design phase will be wrapping up late winter/early spring, and, hopefully, our right-of-way acquisitions will be wrapping up shortly after that.”
Banez said that DelDOT has scheduled to advertise for construction bids for the project in May of 2012, with plans to begin construction in the fall of 2012. He noted, however, that the schedule was dependent on the right-of-way acquisition phase being completed on schedule.
“This project affects 275 properties over the 4-mile project. Each one of those properties probably has at least two different types of acquisitions. A lot of them have three in negotiations,” he said, adding that the acquisitions are two-thirds of the way completed.
Banez said that the 4-mile project will take approximately four years to complete. He noted that the project is especially difficult given how narrow the roadway is.
“It’s a very narrow corridor, [which is] very difficult to do. We have a lot of utilities to relocate. Pretty much all of that work will have to be done from the roadway.”
He said that, because DelDOT is aware of the issue, they are trying to be proactive in finding ways to minimize construction time.
“What we’ve been doing – as we’ve been nearing the end of our design phase, preparing for construction – is we’ve been trying to find some creative ways to minimize our time in construction, facilitate utility companies so that roadway contractors aren’t in their way and vice-versa. We’re going to advance a few areas of construction in front of the general construction.”
Although the project will be constructed running from east to west, beginning at the Assawoman Canal, Banez said work will also be occurring ahead of that.
“In front of that, we’ve identified the Clarksville intersection as an area where we can get out there early. There’s very minimal utility relocation work that we need to do there,” he said. He noted that the intersection at Cedar Drive will be realigned, along with minimal utility work being done on Old Mill Road to the east of Cedar Drive.
A right-turn lane will also be added for eastbound traffic turning onto Windmill Road, as a portion of Route 26 will be closed due to two bridges needing being replaced — one at that location, in front of the Millville Town Hall, and a second just east of Lord Baltimore Elementary School. He estimated that construction will last six to eight weeks.
“Areas between those two bridges – basically downtown Millville – will still be accessible via Cedar Drive. So we’ll have a full detour for those areas.”
Banez said that DelDOT is required to maintain pedestrian access throughout construction, which will allow residents and visitors another way to maneuver through the construction zones.
He added that the Route 26 Detour Routes project – which began construction in July to prepare adjacent roadways to take traffic while the Mainline project is under way – is behind schedule, due to problems with the utility companies.
“The roadway contractor has basically done no roadway work because the utility companies aren’t out of the way. So we’re waiting for those companies to show up. Unfortunately, DelDOT does not have much of a handle over the utility companies. There’s not much we can do about it. That is a huge concern for us.”
Banez acknowledged that the project’s construction will make traveling difficult for residents and visitors. However, the end result – the widening of Route 26 from 40 feet to 64, with a center turn lane and pedestrian improvements throughout – would be worth it.
For more information on the Indian River Inlet Bridge project, visit www.deldot.gov/information/projects/indian_river_bridge. For more information on the Route 26 Mainline project, visit www.deldot.gov/information/projects/sr26/mainline_project/index.shtml.