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DelDOT says I-495 bridge likely to stay closed for weeks

Motorists driving in the Wilmington area can expect continued congestion for the foreseeable future.

DelDOT Secretary Shalien Bhatt says issues with the I-495 bridge over the Christina River that forced that highway to be closed will take weeks, not days, to resolve.

“The bridge itself should remain upright, but we cannot expose it to traffic loads,” said Bhatt. “So, the bridge will remained closed.”

DelDOT closed I-495 Monday night after an inspection showed four of the bridge’s 37 pairs of support columns are leaning as much as two feet out of alignment, leaving portions of the road tilting.

Bhatt says there is no minimizing the seriousness of the issue.

“This is the sort of thing that is sort of a DEFCON-5 from a transportation system [perspective], which is why [Monday] when we got the reports from our bridge engineers, we decided to act as prudently as possible,” said Bhatt. “This is a really serious situation. We’re lucky we caught it in time. We don’t know what could have happened and we’re going to take every step to make sure things are safe before we reopen.

But that could take some time. Work to add support to the bridge won’t begin until they know what’s causing the problem.

Bhatt says preliminary inspections suggest the issue lines below the ground

“Everything above the ground, we have ruled out preliminarily as a cause of the tilt,” said Bhatt during a briefing near the bridge Tuesday afternoon. “Everything below the ground is 100 percent a possibility and we are taking steps to eliminate those [one by one].”

Possible issues include corrosion of metal portions of the supports underground or compression of the ground the supports sits in.

There are large piles of dirt near the affected areas of the bridge and DelDOT has asked the owner of that dirt to move it in case its weight is causing compression.

Bhatt notes the state has already been in contact with the federal government about receiving emergency funds to help pay for determining the problem and repairing it. He notes it will likely take weeks to go through the process of determining if Delaware is eligible for funds in this case, and if so, how much money it could receive.

The bridge, built in 1974, is inspected every two years and was last was last inspected in October 2012. About 90,000 vehicles use that portion of I-495 on a daily basis.