Inlet bridge becomes a two-lane road

Motorists may feel a slight pinch driving over the Indian River Inlet these days — the bridge narrowed to one lane in either direction on Sept. 6.

However, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) representative Bob King said the department had done a lot of traffic monitoring in the vicinity of the bridge, and he didn’t expect the lane closures would cause any traffic problems.

He suggested the long, open causeways leading up to the bridge from both directions tended to mitigate the merge into a single lane, unlike lane closures in areas where traffic signals created more stop-and-go.

In the event of a localized emergency in southeastern Sussex, DelDOT does have contingency plans in place which would enable them to reverse the southbound lane if necessary, King said.

And he didn’t anticipate local emergency responders would find the closures problematic, either. Assistant Bethany Beach Fire Chief Brian Martin confirmed that.

“This is a project that will be ongoing for years, and we discussed this well in advance,” Martin said. “We’re ready.”

As Martin pointed out, it was not an uncommon occurrence that accidents temporarily closed Route 1 on one side or the other. Responders had procedures in place for getting a vehicle through, or calling on colleagues from Rehoboth or Dewey beaches.

DelDOT engineer David Duke pledged to have two travel lanes and a bike lane, both ways, reopened before Memorial Day 2006.

He described the two-phase project slated for the coming months — (1) shoring up of the eastern side of the existing bridge and (2) a slight realignment to the highway by the later part of May (Memorial Day to be celebrated on May 29 next year).

DelDOT has already pile-driven steel reinforcements along the west side of the bridge, and will now repeat that process along the east side. Vibration from the new construction could conceivably damage the existing causeways — the added protection should negate that possibility.

After that, Duke said they’d be working to shift southbound Route 1 into the center median, and northbound Route 1 approximately 20 feet toward the dunes. The change will affect approximately one-third mile of the northbound lanes, and a bit more along the southbound lanes.

The new Indian River Inlet Bridge will have a 1,000-foot main span (no piers in the channel). Intense currents through the inlet have scoured and somewhat undermined the existing piers.

According to DelDOT and project engineers (FIGG), the Army Corps of Engineers had shored up the piers with rip-rap (rocks or broken concrete, massive in this case) in the late 1980s, but the current was now threatening the rip-rap itself.

Representatives for Sussex County have placed the new bridge at the top of their priority list for the past few years, noting its importance to both safety, and the economy, of southeastern Sussex. It again appeared atop the list County Administrator Bob Stickels was slated to present to DelDOT at the annual Capital Transportation Program meeting, Sept. 8.