DelDOT highlights bridge progress, Kent County projects in budget hearing

 The I-495 bridge in Wilmington (file/NewsWorks)

The I-495 bridge in Wilmington (file/NewsWorks)

The final repairs to the I-495 bridge are expected to be completed by the end of this year, according to DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt.

Bhatt provided an update on the bridge repairs during the Delaware Department of Transportation budget hearing in Dover on Tuesday.

He told the Office of Management and Budget that they’re estimating the bridge repairs will cost the state $600,000 to $1 million.

The Federal government has spent $35 million to date in emergency funds to fix the bridge which closed earlier this year after engineers found that several support columns were tilted. The bridge re-opened several weeks later after temporary measures were put in place. Permanent reconstruction is underway and Bhatt said the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, as long as the weather cooperates.

Investigators believe the columns became tiled because of a massive dirt pile that was stored under the bridge by a private company. The weight of the dirt put pressure on the foundation and shifted the structure. Bhatt said they’re just beginning the litigation process with the owners of the dirt.

“It’s mostly lawyers talking to lawyers and lawyers talking to insurance companies but we fully expect to recoup as many of those dollars as we can through litigation,” he said.

Along with the I-495 bridge project, Bhatt outlined a handful of significant projects set to begin in Kent County in 2015.

He said the West Dover connector project, the SR 1 Thompsonville interchange and the SR 1 Little Heaven interchange will account for $85 million in Kent County infrastructure improvements.

“To put that in prospective, that is the most work that we’ve had going on in Kent County, probably since the early 2000s, when we were doing the Route 1 work around the Air Force Base,” Bhatt said.

The Department of Transportation is asking for a total of $344.5 million operating budget for fiscal year 2016, a one percent increase from the 2015 budget.

While Bhatt had hoped to secure additional funding for projects through a proposed 10-cent gas tax increase, the idea didn’t come to fruition among state lawmakers during the last legislative session.

Bhatt didn’t exactly say whether they’d try to push for the gas tax in the new legislative session, which begins in January, but he did say he’s open minded to working with lawmakers on ways to come up with funding solutions.

“Whether its gas tax, whether it’s some other revenue enhancement, what I’m encouraged by is that everyone we talked to last year, wasn’t questioning the need, it was the ‘how.’”

Bhatt along with other state department heads will continue to outline their FY 2016 budget requests before OMB.

OMB hosts the budget hearings to help prepare the governor’s budget, which is released January.

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