DelDOT reviews inlet bridge design

Roadwork continues around the Indian River Inlet Bridge, but the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is taking another look at designs for the bridge itself. Anticipating the single bid the department had received would prove much more expensive than expected, DelDOT is now modifying its bid package, in preparations for trying again.

According to an Oct. 4 press release, department personnel decided not to open the single bid, because they’d received indications the contractor’s offer would approach $200 million. Most recent DelDOT estimates have tagged the bridge portion of the project at $121 million, according to department spokesman Darrel Cole.

Rising concrete and steel prices and a scarcity of available contractors have forced DelDOT to adjust initial estimates upward, and upwards again.

The press release also suggested the bridge’s unique design may have scared contractors away. From DelDOT Chief Engineer Carolann Wicks: “What this process shows us is that the construction industry does not appear ready to build this particular type of bridge at this time.”

She said they were taking another look at their options for shaving costs, but the overall design wouldn’t change. “We’ve put a lot of time into the ‘tied arch,” Wicks pointed out. “We will still maintain the 1,000-foot span — we don’t think it would be prudent to build piers in the channel again.”

And Wicks agreed with comments department Secretary Nathan Hayward has made in the past, regarding some of the aesthetic extras — “They’re minimal, in comparison with the concrete, cables and foundation,” she said.

DelDOT is currently estimating total project costs at nearly $230 million, between (1) roadwork, (2) the bridge itself, (3) park improvements and (4) demolition of the old bridge.

The state of Delaware will pay a little less than half of those costs.

Cole said the ratios could change somewhat, in light of this year’s federal transportation bill. (Delaware received more than $1 billion over the next six years, but as Cole has noted in the past, the state has to come up with matching funds.)

Admitting he was unsure what affect this year’s federal infusion would have on the state/federal ratios at the Indian River Inlet, he offered some current estimates.

• The feds contribute 35 percent toward the roadwork — pegged at $85 million, the state picks up about $55 million there.

• The feds pick up between 70 and 80 percent of the costs for the bridge itself (again, estimated at $121 million). Splitting the difference at 75 percent, that leaves the state with a bill for roughly $30 million.

• The state pays 100 percent for the park improvements. Price tag, $18 million.

• The feds pick up 80 percent on the demolition, which Cole estimated between $4 and $5 million. Again splitting the difference ($4.5 million), the state would pay $900,000.

• This leaves Delaware with a $104.4 million bill for the total project — assuming current estimates hold.