A Rehoboth man on his way to work in Bethany, and a Lewes man who “just wanted to see what it was like,” drove the first two cars over the newly opened Indian River Inlet Bridge in Sussex County.
Those two cars technically had to wait for a caravan of poiticians to drive over the bridge first. The bridge with its blue cables that mirror the yellow cables at the other Route 1 bridge over the C&D Canal to the north officially opened to southbound traffic around 1pm Friday. Eventually, one lane of northbound traffic will accompany one lane of southbound traffic over the bridge.
It was not the “official” dedication of the bridge. That will have to wait until warmer weather in either April or May. Delaware officials want to kick off the summer season by highlighting new bike lanes built into the bridge. That means one lane of traffic will remain in effect until then.
Governor Jack Markell drove the lead car over the bridge. Along for the ride were Senator Tom Carper and Delaware Department of Transportation Sec. Shailen Bhatt. In remarks before the 8 official cars drove over the bridge, Senator Carper noted that 70 percent of the money used to build the bridge was provided by federal tax dollars. He said much of that was in the form of earmarks. He noted that some states use earmarks “to build bridges to nowhere.” He was referring to an infamous Alaskan project that brought attention to the misue of earmark funding. Then he added, “we build bridges to the future.”
Bob Rose, Senior Vice President of Skanska USA, the company hired to rework and complete the Indian River Inlet Bridge said, “There were over 1.2 million man hours that went into this project. As an engineer you take a lot of pride when working on a project like this.”
Governor Markell praised the work that Skanska did on the project noting that it provided jobs for many local businesses.
Now water under the bridge and the cars going over it
Both Senator Carper and Governor Markell referenced one of the problems the bridge faced before its opening. Scouring was one of the big issue facing the engineers. The rough seas that wash up against the bridge pilings potentially could do damage to the bridge. Bhatt said, “This bridge has gone through a hurricane, an earthquake, and a nor’easter.” He said the bridge is constantly checked to make sure the bridge will be safe for many years to come.
When the dignitaries finished their drive it was time for DelDOT to let the drivers come through. A small line of traffic was stopped for about 15 minutes. The first in line was Broc Townsend of Rehoboth. He was on his way to his job at World’s Gym in Bethany. He travels the earthen make-shift bridge everyday and is glad the bridge is opening. “Traveling along this road in the summer has traffic backed up for miles with the old bridge, sometimes,” he said.
Townsend added that he knows some of the construction workers from the project. “They told some pretty amazing stories,” he said. Charlie Moore of Lewes thought the bridge was “pretty neat”. His only reason for remaining in the traffic line Friday was to experience the ride.
Both Markell and Carper noted the need to build up Delaware’s infrastructure was the key to the state’s future. “If you want to go to the beaches or head to Dover, you have to use this bridge,” said Carper. For Townsend and Moore and the other drivers who cheered as they slowly traveled across the bridge, they knew they were a big part of that future.