The Indian River Inlet Bridge project that was once loaded with cost overruns and design flaws is finally nearing completion.
Crossing the narrow inlet that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River Bay has caused engineering headaches for decades, but the latest design could pu tall those headaches in the past.
That’s the whole purpose of the new bridge, says DelDOT’s Tina Shockley. “We had to remove the pieres out of the high velocity water in the waterway, and building a cable stay bridge like this, we’re able to move those piers outside of the inlet and put them on the land so scouring of those piers by the inlet waters is no longer a concern.”
The scouring and other weather related issues at the inlet have plagued every span that’s crossed the water here since the first in 1934. The new bridge, which is now about 80% complete, is designed to last 100 years. “This bridge is designed for 30-foot scour conditions,” says Skanska field engineer Hector Fung. “Below the ground line, all of that soil can be washed away- 30 feet- and basically the bridge will be sitting on stilts, and it will be okay.”
But the process hasn’t been without problems. A former design for the bridge was supposed to be completed in 2008. The state still has a $20 million claim pending against an engineering company that produced what DelDOT dubbed a flawed design. The current construction hasn’t been immune to problems, suffering some cracking in the bridge decking, although that problem has been patched. “A great deal of this bridge is concrete,” says Shockley. “Concrete does have it’s issues as well. Cracking is one of those issues that has occurred. It’s not uncommon in this industry, and those cracks have been repaired.” Fung says those problems come with the territory, “You always have those hiccups, and we just have to take those into account and try to get past those as best we can.”
Explaining how workers deal with those “hiccups” is part of a new application of the construction process: education. Students like a group from St. Georges Technical High School are among the more than 1,000 who have toured the bridge site, learning more about engineering and construction. Matthew Williams from New Castle is a junior at the school. He says, “I’m really looking forward to civil engineering and working on bridges.” Fellow junior Claira Rittenhouse from Newark was impressed with the scope of the project. “I like the fact that it’s big work. It’s not just something simple. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of different structures.”
Fung says explaining the process is a part of passing down the construction craft to the next generation. “I like to explain to these young people that construction is a technical and pretty good job. It’s self-fulfilling.”
School and community groups aren’t the only ones who’ve been eagerly monitoring progress here. Local tourism and business leaders are watching as well. “It’s also going to be a beautiful landmark for our area,” says Carrie Subity, executive director of the Fenwick-Bethany Area Chamber of Commerce. “People come to bridges all the time just to look at the structures.” Shockley says, “The economic and tourism boost that this bridge will give to the Bethany and Rehoboth and Lewes communities is beyond compare.”
On average, more than 13,000 cars cross the inlet every day, and even though the end of construction is near, traffic here is likely to get worse before it gets better as teh work on the approach to the bridge gets underway in full.
Full update on the progress can be found on DelDOT’s website.