New inlet bridge plans unveiled

On Wednesday, Sept. 17, many area professionals and residents had their questions (and prayers) answered as state and local officials unveiled the new plans for the long-anticipated Indian River Inlet Bridge project.

Coastal Point • Monica Fleming: A night-time view of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge, as designed. The bridge is to be finished in 2011.Coastal Point • Monica Fleming
A night-time view of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge, as designed. The bridge is to be finished in 2011.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) Secretary Carolann Wicks and others were in attendance as speakers and members of the Indian River Inlet Bridge design team introduced Skanska USA Civil Southeast as the contractors that will undertake the $150 million design-build project. With construction slated to begin in early 2009, the new cable-stayed bridge is scheduled to have commuters rolling over it by summer of 2011.

“Today we celebrate a significant milestone,” said an enthusiastic Wicks.

Of three proposals DelDOT received for the new project, Skanska Southeast came in with the lowest price and the highest technical score, and proposed the quickest completion time.

“We’ve worked on this project over many years, and now we have perfected it, and we’re moving forward in a hurry. It will make a difference and we’re very happy with that,” said Wicks.

Minner commended Wicks for her work with the bridge development.

“We had some problems,” Minner acknowledged. “We all know that, but those problems will be solved with the construction of this new bridge.”

“This style is dramatic, yet functional,” Wicks noted. “The design allows for a more narrow profile over the inlet and provides greater stability. It will be able to withstand the extreme weather conditions we experience in the area.”

In addition to transportation advantages, the bridge will be the subject of site tours and a significant educational effort, including collaboration with engineering programs at University of Delaware.

“We can’t gloss over what has happened in the past,” Wicks added. “Eleven months ago, I addressed plans to change the design of the bridge and roadways leading up to it, due to inconsistency between field data and natural progressions that were predicted to occur.”

She assured those present Wednesday that, through extensive research to prevent similar results, the design Skanska Southeast has provided will be a viable solution.

“Skanska is a Mid-Atlantic based company with decades of experience building major bridges and complex roadways,” stated the company’s executive vice resident, Peter MacKenna. He stated the project will “improve the quality of life for beach area residents, the state of Delaware, and other travelers and visitors from across the United States.”

In 1960, Skanska was hired as part of a joint project that constructed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on Route 13 — what has since been dubbed one of the seven engineering wonders of the world. Skanska’s more recent projects include the Cooper River Bridge in South Carolina, which is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. Additional projects include recovery construction of bridges along Interstate 10 over Escambia Bay, Fla., which were destroyed in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.

MacKenna commended the business for its effectiveness, often finishing projects ahead of projected schedule and always within budget.

The new Indian River Inlet Bridge will stretch 2,600 feet in length, including a 900-foot clear span over the Indian River Inlet, and 1,700 feet over land. Officials claim the bridge will sustain “100 years at the very least” and will be an asset “for many generations to come.” The current 860-foot-long bridge was constructed in 1965 and widened 11 years later.

State Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) traced the problems with the current bridge back to the inlet’s history. Until 1928, the Indian River Inlet served as a natural inlet, shifting north and south each year over a 2-mile range. Dredging began in 1928, keeping the inlet open until 1938, when jetties were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — a fatal error, according to Hocker.

MacKenna assured the public of an open dialogue as project construction nears. Both he and state Sen. George Bunting (D-20th) recognized and thanked U.S. taxpayers, who payed for the bridge’s construction.

As preparation for construction of the project draws closer to early next year, the public will be invited to share their input, to help determine aesthetics, such as lighting on pylon legs and pedestrian walkways, the color of the cable stays and design on the top of the pylons.

The Coastal Point will have continuing coverage of construction of the new Indian River Inlet Bridge in the coming years.