Delaware legislators want bridge answers

by Michael Short on September 10, 2010

The current Indian River Inlet Bridge being replaced with a new bridge.

Artist rendition of the bridge under construction.

By Michael Short

A group of  eight Delaware legislators has written to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to ask for results of an investigation into earlier problems with construction of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge.

The investigation was into the approach ramps for the new construction. After the earthen approaches settled and began to shift, the decision was made to lengthen the bridge approaches and remove most of the two approaches. A small section of the ramps was retained for use in the new design.

The design problems cost millions and legislators asked for the results of an investigation after the old ramp design was abandoned more than two years ago. On Thursday, Sept. 9, they made it clear they were getting tired of waiting.

“That was more than two years ago and despite repeated attempts by me and other legislators, DelDOT has not released those findings,” said State Rep. Greg Lavelle.

Lavelle and seven other legislators, all of them from Sussex County, signed the letter. They are Senator Joe Booth, Rep. Ruth Briggs-King, Rep. George Carey, Rep. Gerald Hocker, Rep. Dan Short, Rep. Biff Lee and Rep. Dave Wilson.

In March 2008, DelDOT announced it was hiring the firm of O’Connell and Lawrence to investigate the geotechnical work and embankment construction. At the time, transportation officials estimated they would have the results of the probe by that summer.

A press release from the House Republican Caucus (all the legislators are Republican) said the ramp miscues cost an estimated $9.5 million.

“This is an issue of accountability,” said Rep. Lavelle. “Everyone says they are for accountability, but the test of transparency is continuing to follow through when mistakes and errors are made.”

“This is our third attempt to formally request and obtain accountability on this project,” reads the letter, in part,  to DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks. “The last time we contacted you regarding the issue was six months ago. We believe we have been very patient and understanding of the sensitive nature of the investigation as it relates to insurance and other claims, but our patience is coming to an end and we believe that the taxpayers of Delaware deserve a substantive update on the status of the claims related to this project.”

DelDOT responded that the process cannot be rushed, even though everyone would like answers. “We agree with the concerns of lawmakers and residents that there were clearly problems with the initial design efforts on the Indian River Inlet Bridge,” according to a written statement from DelDOT. “Due to those shared concerns, we launched an investigation that is taking time to complete. The department is moving in a thorough and proper manner that is consistent with an administrative dispute resolution process that keeps taxpayers’ and public interest priority. While we all wish this process was faster, we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the best possible long-term outcome for taxpayers by limiting in any way the assignment of financial responsibility or financial recovery simply for the sake of short-term expediency.”

“My district includes the bridge site and my constituents rely on this span for both their convenience and safety,” said Rep. Gerald Hocker. “DelDOT is more than happy to share their successes. They should be just as forthcoming when they drop the ball. The citizens of this state have been waiting more than two-and-a-half-years to get some answers. They’ve waited long enough.”

DelDOT’s letter said that the agency has met with legislators to keep them aware of the process, including monthly meetings with one of the legislators listed on the letter. It added that a more detailed report is expected in the next six weeks.

“If unanswered questions were concrete beams and steel cable, DelDOT would have more than enough to build a few new bridges,” said Sen. Booth.

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