DOVER, Del. (AP) — Vehicles and materials found stored under several major bridges in Delaware after the emergency closure of an interstate bridge did not pose any threats to safety, officials said Thursday.
Delaware Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt ordered a review of major bridges after engineers determined that a massive dirt mound dumped next to the I-495 bridge over the Christina River in Wilmington may have caused underground soils to shift, resulting in damage to several bridge columns. The emergency closure of the bridge was ordered June 2.
Officials have said the tilting columns have slightly rebounded toward their original alignment with the removal of the dirt mound. Bhatt ordered a review of other bridges in Delaware to see if they were potentially threatened by similar stockpiling of material.
A review of 29 major bridges 500 feet or longer found that 14 had dirt, materials or vehicles stored underneath them or within 100 feet. Officials said there were no safety issues found, but that crews did check two of the bridges to ensure that supporting columns were straight.
"They were all good ... There was nothing there that we thought presented a safety issue," said Calvin Weber, a bridge maintenance engineer for the state transportation department. Weber said inspectors found a small pile of dirt beneath a bridge on Route 100 in Elsmere where a construction company also stored equipment. The company has removed the dirt. Inspectors also found construction equipment and materials, including concrete blocks and bricks, under a second bridge in Elsmere.
Officials are still checking to see if any private companies that were storing equipment or materials underneath or near bridges had right-of-way or easement agreements to do so. They also are compiling a second list of bridges 200 to 500 feet and will review those spans as well.
On Thursday, work continued on the I-495 bridge. The repair plan involves drilling new four-foot-diameter, concrete-filled shafts to support the bridge and tying them together with reinforced concrete beams at ground level. The beams would support temporary jacking towers that will straighten the bridge superstructure, take the load off the tilting columns, some of which will have to be replaced with new concrete columns.
The first drilling equipment was expected to be operating Friday. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx planned to visit the bridge on Friday afternoon with Gov. Jack Markell and members of Delaware's congressional delegation, as part of a previously scheduled trip to Delaware.
Federal officials have made $2 million in emergency funding available for the project. Officials say federal taxpayers will pick up 90 percent of the cost of permanent repairs to the bridge, which are expected to total at least $20 million.
Officials have said they immediately ordered the I-495 bridge closed after discovering that the columns were tilting. But a local businessman called 911 on April 15 to report that concrete barriers separating the bridge's northbound and southbound lanes, which are supposed to be level with each other, had separated in elevation by as much as a foot. Transportation officials also received a separate notice from an engineer working in the area on Thursday, May 29, that the bridge appeared to be tilting, but they did not send out an inspection team until the following Monday.
Bhatt is set to discuss the bridge issue Wednesday before a joint legislative committee.