Vehicles, materials stored under Delaware bridges

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A wide-ranging inspection has found
that vehicles and materials are being stored under several of Delaware’s
bridges, conditions similar to those at a major interstate bridge
closed after shifting soils caused structural problems.
It was not
immediately clear what, if any, hazards the materials present, but
officials have ordered some of them removed. Inspection results shared
with The Associated Press on Wednesday did not contain an analysis of
possible risks. Department of Transportation spokesman Geoff Sundstrom
said in an email that he would try to obtain additional information from
bridge officials on Thursday.
Transportation Secretary Shailen
Bhatt ordered the review after engineers determined that a massive dirt
mound dumped next to the Interstate 495 bridge over the Christina River
may have caused the movement of underground soils, resulting in damage
to several bridge columns and the emergency closure of the bridge on
June 2.
The bridge, which normally carries an average of 90,000
vehicles daily around Wilmington, will be closed indefinitely as
engineers figure out how to brace it after they found columns tilting.
Most of the detoured traffic is on already-clogged I-95, which passes
through downtown.
The results of the latest inspection show that
14 of 29 bridges reviewed had materials or vehicles stored underneath or
within 100 feet of them. Among the vehicles were military vehicles,
construction equipment, trucks and buses, some belonging to the
transportation department. Among the materials were dirt, sand and stone
piles, although their volume was not quantified in the results.
Following the inspections, some private firms were told to move
vehicles, equipment or stored items, Sundstrom said.
"Parking
vehicles beneath bridges is a common practice," Sundstrom said in his
email. "Whether or not that practice will continue is based on the
conditions for each specific bridge site."
Sundstrom noted that
while heavy, the weight of a single vehicle "is not remotely comparable
to the weight" of the dirt pile under the 1-495 bridge. Officials have
estimated the weight of that dirt at 50,000 tons.
The review also found that 21 of the 29 bridges have no right of way fencing, and that others have only
"some" fencing.
"Where
fencing is needed for security or safety reasons it should be installed
or reinstalled," Sundstrom wrote. "Many of our structures were erected
years ago and the right-of-way adjacent to them has not been reviewed
for some time."
Officials said the review involved bridges more
than 500 feet long. The state owns 59 such bridges, but 30, such as
those that are overpasses or that span wetlands, were immediately
eliminated from the review because nothing is stored beneath them.
In
addition to the site reviews, officials are examining archive plans and
documents to compile information on soil conditions, foundation types,
and rights of way for each of the 29 bridges.
Meanwhile, officials
acknowledged Wednesday that the state Transportation Management Center
was alerted after a motorist called 911 on April 15 to report a problem
with the I-495 bridge. The motorist, Charles Allen Jr., told a 911
dispatcher 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.
Sundstrom said
details surrounding the 911 call, including who in the transportation
department responded to Allen and when Bhatt learned about it, are still
under investigation.
Bhatt’s office also is still investigating
his agency’s response to a notification from a private engineer who was
working near the bridge on Thursday, May 29, and reported to state
officials that it appeared to be tilting. State officials did not send
out a crew to examine the bridge until the following Monday.