Mission Accomplished

After years of construction, delay and turbulent waters, the Indian River Inlet Bridge opened to traffic last Friday, with Gov. Jack Markell taking the maiden ride across its span.

Coastal Point •  R. Chris Clark: State Sen. George H. Bunting, left, and State Rep. Gerald Hocker are all smiles as they drive across the new Indian River Inlet Bridge on Friday, Jan. 20.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
State Sen. George H. Bunting, left, and State Rep. Gerald Hocker are all smiles as they drive across the new Indian River Inlet Bridge on Friday, Jan. 20.

“The bridge that we’re going to open to traffic today is an example of why a lot of us in transportation got into transportation,” said Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) Secretary Shailen Bhatt. “It’s a signature project, and it’s something that we’ve very excited about.”

Construction on the new bridge began in late 2008. The final structure was erected by Skansja Southeast under a design-build contract with DelDOT. Bridge construction was delayed briefly multiple times over the years due to weather events and the removal of the bridge’s form travelers, and reached a standstill at one point due to geotechnical errors related to the original approach embankments under the original bridge design contractor.

“The testament to the team isn’t just saying you’re working as a team,” said Bob Rose, senior vice president for Skanska. “The testament is working through issues. All projects, as it’s the nature of construction, have issues. Whether it’s a part of the design or a part of the application, it’s how you work through them that is a testament to the team, and I can’t speak highly enough about the relationship between Skanska and DelDOT and how we worked through significant issues and resolved them.”

Markell, along with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, DelDOT Project Manager Doug Robb and Bhatt attended an official opening for the bridge on Jan. 20, as a single southbound lane was rerouted onto the new bridge. Sixty Delaware businesses have been suppliers to the project, and Markell said that building a strong infrastructure in the state will help with the state’s economy.

“There was a lot of business for local Delaware contractors, whether it’s restaurants, hotels or others, throughout this project. The idea behind these transportation projects… this is something that’s going to be used for a long time. We can only have a strong economy going forward if we have a strong infrastructure. When you can find these projects – which put people to work today, on things that will create jobs over the long-term – that’s really the kind of win-win that we’re focused on.”

Carper agreed, saying that the bridge is not only critical to the state’s infrastructure but to its economy, as well.

“In the years to come, the decades to come, this bridge will be used by all kinds of people trying to get from north to south, who want to go to the beach, who want to go up to Dover,” he said. “We have people hauling chickens who are trying to get them to market, maybe in the Port of Wilmington to sell and distribute them all over the world. This bridge is just critical to movements of goods and people up and down our state.”

Former state Rep. Shirley Price said she’s excited that the bridge is now a reality and will help the local economy.

“I find it very exciting. I can remember as a child not having a bridge in place,” she said. “It is so important to the economy of our area. It’s definitely well worth the wait to have something that is going to last indefinitely.”

As it nears completion, the $150 million dollar project is currently within budget. Carper noted that 70 percent of the bridge’s cost was federally funded.

The bridge is 2,600 feet long, 108 feet wide and situated 45 feet above the inlet. It is expected to fully open, with all four 12-foot-wide travel lane and a 12-foot-wide multi-use sidewalk functioning, by Memorial Day.

The bridge itself has a life expectance of 100 years, with the surface overlay expected to last anywhere from 20 to 30 years.

“My hope is that this bridge will be used way, way, way after I’m gone and for our children and our grandchildren, as well. We’re going to get our money’s worth,” said Carper.

Rose added that the Skanska design team had logged more than 1.2 million man-hours on the inlet bridge project and are looking at the nearly completed project with pride.

“It’s a project that we’re extremely proud of,” he said. “You never forget, and you have pride in this project forever. You’ll drive 100 miles out of your way when you travel to see a project where a piece of you is still there, and I can speak for every one of the 1.2 million man-hours of people that contributed to the success of this project.”

Currently there is one lane of the bridge open to southbound traffic. DelDOT expects to open the bridge to two lanes of traffic, one each north and southbound, by the end of the month.

“We don’t build bridges to nowhere — we build bridges to the future. We build bridges to places where people want to go and need to go,” said Carper. “This is a happy day. It’s a beautiful bridge, and it’s exciting to see it finally come to fruition.”