IR Inlet Bridge complete; touch-up work continues

Many motorists were excited to begin driving over the new Indian River Inlet Bridge in late January when it initially opened to limited traffic, but roadwork will continue throughout spring, and locals got a progress report from Delaware Department of Transportation’s (DelDOT) monthly Community Advisory Group meeting on Feb. 23.

The new bridge has shed much of the construction equipment used to build it, including the gigantic tower cranes and custom-built form travelers. Yet much activity continues on deck. The construction isn’t always visible to drivers, but it is important, said DelDOT’s Doug Robb.

The bridge work is on track to be completed by Memorial Day.

A small platform still provides access for workers with finishing tasks such as painting and patching. Because it has a clearance of more than 32 feet above the Inlet waters below, the moving platform should not dramatically obstruct boat traffic.

The complex sand bypass system will be attached to the new bridge before the old bridge is demolished. Regular tidal movements are partially blocked by the inlet jetties, so the sand bypass system moves the sand across the channel from one beach to another, thus preventing extreme erosion.

People may see intermittent light testing, but the full illumination will be seen closer to May.

The pedestrian walkway is being built up on the bridge’s ocean side. It will be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, so the 5-degree incline will meet ADA requirements, unlike the old bridge. Pedestrians can access both beaches from the bridge when construction ends, but they are still using a detour, as are cyclists.

Bicyclists should follow specially marked signs, as they are not supposed to follow motor vehicle patterns yet. There are still open joints on parts of the new bridge, which is unsafe for bikes. Within two weeks, bicycles heading south toward Bethany Beach will use the new bridge, but cyclists heading north will still detour to the old bridge.

Craig Stevens of DelDOT said there have been some utility outages, such as cable and Internet, in the project area, but he emphasized that they are the responsibility of the utility companies. That work should be complete within the next two weeks, he said. Transmission lines are also done, and companies have been cleaning up and removing equipment from work sites.

A small road runs beneath the bridge to the south, connecting access roads on either side of the bridge. The A-B Connector, as it is called, was temporarily opened but will close again soon as construction continues. Drivers will need to make a U-turn to access the local roads.

After the roadway contract ends, DelDOT will continue plans for the park contract – specifically, state park improvements and amenities that were unavailable while DelDOT used park land as a construction site.

Park improvements should not affect Route 1 traffic as bridge construction did. Only the parks and, perhaps the South Shore Marina residential community, will be impacted by construction in the next few years.

The Delaware Fisherman’s Alliance has asked DelDOT to address their concerns with the future park contract, which includes vehicle parking. Stevens said one parking lot was only supposed to be a temporary lot, so some fishermen were upset that it will become an RV camping lot. Stevens said DelDOT will reconsider the plans to possibly include some regular parking spots.

“Just because we opened traffic on the bridge, we’re nowhere near complete,” Stevens emphasized. “All that work is still going on. They’re still gonna be in your back yard for a little while.”

George & Lynch contractors are currently building the roadway approaches but will stop short of state park parking areas, which will be continued later during the park contract.

In the future, the park tollbooth will be moved farther back in the parking lot. That is expected to improve traffic queues for South Shore Marina residents who occasionally wait at the end of long vehicle lines just to bypass the park and approach their homes.

The road will be widened and improved, but Stevens could not promise there would be no delays on a very busy day.

The monthly Construction Advisory Group meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 29, at 10 a.m. at the DelDOT Field Office, 39368 Inlet Road on the inlet’s north side.