The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) recently halted its bidding process for the construction of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge.
According to a DelDOT press release, the agency made the move after it “anticipated that the bid would come in at approximately $200 million, or as much as $80 million more than the original estimate.”
DelDOT said it remains “committed to building the bridge” and that it will be reviewing the current design and “other alternatives before determining what a new bridge over the Indian River Inlet will look like.”
It is my hope that DelDOT is serious about considering “other alternatives.” The current design for the new bridge is visually striking and cutting edge. With a main span stretching 1,000-feet across the inlet, it would be the world's longest single concrete arch cable-supported bridge and the first of its kind in the U.S.
But the proposed bridge’s aesthetic appeal and engineering distinctiveness is driving up costs and reducing the number of contractors willing to commit to such an ambitious project.
This observation is supported by DelDOT Chief Engineer Carolann Wicks, who recently said: "The construction industry does not appear ready to build this particular type of bridge at this time."
The strong tidal currents flowing through the inlet are undermining the supports of the current span. A new bridge is a necessity. It's also a project that must be built within the next five years if we’re to ensure no interruption of Del. 1 traffic south of Dewey Beach.
I applaud DelDOT for realizing that its futuristic bridge design carries too high a price tag and is attracting too little interest from builders. As it re-examines its alternatives, I urge DelDOT to refine this project to its most essential elements and use that to guide its decision-making process.
We need a replacement structure that will stand-up to coastal conditions, will be capable of handling more than the 18,000 vehicles that currently cross the bridge each day, and won’t be impacted by tidal currents.
Accent lighting, beach-themed sidewalks and special railing patterns resembling beach grass – all features of the current design – should not be significant considerations of any redesign.
A more conventional design still holds the promise of producing a bridge that will be an attractive local landmark. A cable-stayed bridge, similar to the span used to cross Del. 1 over the C & D Canal, would be a welcome addition to the coastline.
DelDOT is faced with some difficult challenges. Concrete and steel prices have jumped over the last year, while reconstruction work on the Gulf Coast is increasing demand for skilled contractors.
As it confronts these issues, I urge DelDOT to seek a new bridge design that will focus on fulfilling the essential needs of our motorists while being a cost-effective investment for the taxpayers.
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