Delaware Considers Suing Construction Firm Blamed for Damaging Interstate 495 Bridge

Delaware Department of Transportation officials are exploring possible legal action against a construction company believed to have dumped 50,000 tons of fill dirt adjacent to the Interstate 495 bridge in Wilmington, Delaware, that inspectors have said damaged four of the bridge’s piers.

“We’re viewing all potential liable parties, and we will seek to recover whatever monies that are expended to repair the bridge,” Delaware DOT spokesman Geoff Sundstrom said.

He said the dirt pile that since has been removed was about 3,000 feet long and about two stories high.

“We don’t really know the origin of the fill, but it was definitely placed there sometime after the most recent bridge inspection in 2012,” Sundstrom said.

Federal Highway Administration inspectors earlier this month confirmed their original suspicions that the large dirt pile adjacent to the

I-495 bridge site caused a buckling of four of the bridge’s 37 piers and led to its closing June 2.

“The FHWA has determined that the damage was initiated by a force external to the damaged element of the bridge — that external force being a large amount of soil adjacent to the bridge,” said a letter from FHWA Division Administrator Mary Ridgeway, sent to the Delaware DOT and made public June 18.

The owner of Keogh Contracting Inc., the company the state said dumped the dirt near the bridge that spilled onto state property, has publicly expressed his regret that the soil may have caused the piers to tilt, according to Sundstrom.

In her letter, FHWA’s Ridgeway said that each of the pier foundations was excavated to determine the condition of the bridge’s piles, which were not corroded or fractured.

However, the four concrete pile caps in question were found to be cracked, the letter said.

“The piles were found to be under stress and unsuitable for support of an in-service structure in all four piers,” Ridgeway said.

She said the bridge seems to have been properly maintained. The FHWA letter also confirmed the federal government’s commitment to fund 90% of the bridge repairs done within 180 days.

The first phase of repairs is expected to cost about $20 million, but the total cost has not yet been tallied, Delaware Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said.

An estimated 90,000 vehicles — 10,000 of them trucks — normally travel across the bridge each day.

Officials said the bridge was closed after an inspector confirmed a tip that the bridge was leaning. Allowing traffic on the bridge could have caused it to collapse.

The I-495 bridge span bypasses Wilmington, and is a major artery carrying freight throughout the region and along the East Coast. Its closure has caused much of the traffic to spill onto the already congested I-95 that cuts through the heart of Wilmington.

Keogh did not return a phone message seeking comment before Transport Topics went to press.

Meanwhile, DOT officials maintain that repair work on the bridge is progressing well and still on target for a partial opening by Labor Day.

“Right now, we’re engaged in continuing to bore more of the holes that are necessary to erect the underground support columns,” Sundstrom said.


By Eric Miller, Transport Topics