Inlet Bridge dedication planned for Sunday
After years of planning and construction, the public will get an exclusive and close-up look at their new Indian River Inlet Bridge at the official dedication ceremony on Sunday, May 6.
The Delaware Department of Transportation is allowing the public exclusive access before two lanes of vehicle traffic begins flowing over the bridge in both directions later this month. The northbound side of the bridge will be open to foot traffic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt and other officials will address the crowd at 1:30 p.m. from atop the bridge, alongside the 250-foot high cable-stay towers, with views of the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Bay on either side.
Officially named Charles W. Cullen Bridge – as was its predecessor, which is due for demolition in the near future – the span honors the Delaware lawyer and judge who served as chairman of the State Highway Department during construction of the first modern bridge at the inlet, which was opened in 1940 as a replacement for a deteriorated wooden bridge.
“The public can come out, bring a [bicycle] if they want, and just kind of enjoy their bridge,” said Jason Lang of DelDOT. “Unless they’re on a sidewalk, they won’t get that view again.”
Thousands of visitors are expected, from near and far, to experience and photograph Sussex County’s newest landmark in the once-in-a-lifetime event.
During the event, traffic will continue in both directions on the southbound side of the bridge, as has been the case since January. The northbound bridge, with its ocean view, will be open all day for pedestrians.
Free public parking will be offered in the Delaware Seashore State Park day-use parking lot on the south east side of the inlet. To access the lot, visitors coming from the south will turn right before crossing the bridge. Visitors from the north will cross the bridge, turn at the first crossing, and enter the parking area. DelDOT signs and staff will be on-hand to guide visitors.
Finishing the bridge
DelDOT officials said they hope to open all four lanes of traffic on the new bridge by Memorial Day, on a rapidly approaching deadline. Bridge lighting was also expected to be functional in May.
Bridge contractor Skanska Civil Southeast is very close to completing construction activities on the bridge and its environs, including reattaching the sand bypass system that aids the natural movement of sand and tides across the inlet. The sand bypass system must be attached to the new bridge before the old bridge is demolished.
As they finish the final work, from cleanup to light bulb replacement, crews will continue cleaning the construction site and leaving. Meanwhile, DelDOT will complete inspections and inventories, to make sure the State received what it ordered.
Lang said the design-build nature of the project, in which one company both designs and builds the bridge, has helped keep the project within budget. “Nothing has changed from what we’ve always said: [It’s] a $150 million project.”
Delaware’s own George & Lynch contractors are currently connecting the roadway approaches but will stop short of work on the state park parking areas, which will be continued later, under a separate contract for park improvements.
In the next few years, DelDOT will make improvements to Delaware Seashore State Park, rebuilding campgrounds and parking areas that were affected by construction. Park improvements should not affect Route 1 traffic as bridge construction did, though.
Side roads will continue to be affected by construction, especially at the south side of the state park. The only opportunity to rebuild the roads is after the bridge itself is complete, and that means some drivers will have to cross the bridge and make a U-turn to access the southern roads. Lang said some people may not be happy about that, but DelDOT hopes to complete the work as quickly as possible.
Pedestrians traveling along Route 1 are being encouraged to follow the detour signs along the bridge as the roads are being completed. Roadway construction should finish by mid-2012, and the park contract would begin soon thereafter. Because DelDOT was responsible for the inlet project, that agency has initiated the improvement project.
“The general idea is to beautify the construction area following the construction,” said Tina Shockley of DelDOT.
Although and future roadwork and demolition will not as heavily impact the public, DelDOT will continue monthly public meetings to discuss other details. Community Advisory Group meetings are open to the public to ask questions and get updates. DelDOT will typically lead the meetings, but representatives from the roadwork contractor George & Lynch may also attend. The meetings are generally held on the last Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be Thursday, May 31, at 11 a.m. at the DelDOT Field Office, 39368 Inlet Road on the inlet’s north side.
Additional information can be found online at www.IRIB.deldot.gov and deldot.gov/information/projects/indian_river_bridge_approaches.