Delaware gets extra funds for 495 bridge repairs, will sue for remainder

 Crews remove dirt from the base of columns supporting  I-495 in 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Crews remove dirt from the base of columns supporting I-495 in 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Extra money from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation will reimburse the state for most of the cost of repairing the bridge, but the state will sue several groups to recoup the remaining repair costs.

The federal government will send an extra $2.4 million to Delaware from the U.S. DOT’s Emergency Relief program to further cover the cost of repairs. That brings the total amount paid by the feds to $43.3 million.

A structural problem with a raised portion of I-495 near the Port of Wilmington was discovered in the summer of 2014. The highway was closed in June 2014 after an inspection showed four of the 37 support columns that hold up the bridge were tilted. DelDOT engineers determined the columns were leaning as much as 4 percent out of vertical alignment. The highway reopened after emergency repairs by late August 2014, but not before detours forced thousands of motorists to find alternate routes.

“Our primary goal was to resolve the unprecedented issue with the I-495 bridge as quickly and safely as possible,” said DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan. “This resulted in a significant unplanned expense for DelDOT.” That expense totaled roughly $45 million. The state has paid $1.2 million of that total.

The damage was blamed on land owners adjacent to the bridge who had piled mounds of dirt next to the columns that support the highway. It’s believed the weight of that dirt caused the columns to shift, threatening the stability of the road.

In August 2014, the Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control sent violation notices to the DuPont Co. and New Castle-based Alma Properties, LLC. DuPont and Alma own the land where a 55,000-ton mound of dirt was stockpiled near the bridge’s support columns.

After unsuccessful negotiations to reach a settlement with Alma, DuPont, Keogh Contracting, and Port Contractors, DelDOT filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Thursday. The suit seeks reimbursement for money the state paid to repair damages to the highway.

In a statement released to the media Thursday, DelDOT leaders said they have been working for two years to settle the claims out of court, but “not all parties were cooperative.” When the DNREC notices were sent in 2014, DuPont strongly disagreed with the department’s assessment of the company’s involvement.

“We have stockpiled no soil whatsoever on the property we own, nor have we given permission in any way to anyone else to do so,” the company said in a 2014 statement. “It is our understanding that Port Contractors, in turn, entered into an entirely separate agreement with Keogh Contracting Company to use part of the property, and Keogh brought the soil onto the property for storage.”

DuPont also said the company has no contractual relationship with Keogh and at no time did DuPont authorize them or anyone else to store soil on the property leased by Port Contractors.

DNREC says the department is still willing to negotiate a settlement, but is also ready to go to trial if necessary.

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