U.S. transportation chief checks progress of I-495 bridge work

 U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

Federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made a stop in Delaware Friday to check on the progress of repairs to the I-495 bridge.

The Delaware Department of Transportation has acted quickly to begin repairs on the bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington.

The bridge closed more than a week ago after engineers noticed four support columns were tilted. The closure has created traffic chaos as 90,000 motorists find new daily routes.

DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt showed Foxx some of the equipment workers are using for the job and talked about the steps they’ve taken to begin the first phase of reconstruction.

“This would be something that you’re looking at happening a few months down the road in a normal situation, and we have hit the ground running,” Bhatt said. “We are going 24/7, and we will be until this bridge gets open.”

The $20 million plan includes constructing new foundations deep into the bedrock.

At the site Friday, crews were performing deep exploratory work to check the soils. Drills that will drive the 4-foot-wide shafts into the ground also arrived on site.

Crews have already finished removing 55,000 tons of dirt that was stockpiled beside the bridge. The weight of the stockpile could have contributed to the lateral displacement of the soil, according to DelDOT.

The department also reported that as of Thursday the damaged piers on the bridge have rebounded 0.26 degree to their original alignment, as the stockpile was removed.

Bhatt said engineers are still trying to collect information on the massive dirt pile and have concluded that the pile wasn’t there when the bridge was last inspected in 2012.

The bridge is part of a major artery, and Foxx said the closure isn’t just a Delaware issue, it’s also a national issue.

“When this bridge goes down, the ability of folks to travel south all the way into Miami, all the way up the eastern seaboard is impacted,” Foxx said.

Delaware has secured $2 million in emergency federal funds for repairs.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, said the first $20 million for repairs will come from federal funds. After that, Delaware will receive 90 percent in federal money, if the state puts up the other 10 percent.

DelDOT estimates it will be Labor Day before the bridge will be able to partially open to traffic.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.