Delaware’s I-95 and I-495 Debacle

Interstate I-95 that runs along America’s East Coast from Maine to Florida cuts right through the center of Wilmington where motorists passing through once got bogged down in local traffic.   They did not want to be there, and neither did Wilmington want them, so in the 1970s, the highway department built I-495 that splits off of I-95, bypasses Wilmington, and rejoins it past the city, making everyone happy.

I-495As I-495 passes around Wilmington, it crosses a bridge over the small Christina River. Recently, they found several of the bridge piers were tilting because someone had dumped 55,000 tons of dirt under the bridge approach, enough added weight to sink the ground. Who did this dastardly deed? No one knows, or more accurately, no one is telling. Someone, somehow, dumped this tremendous amount of dirt, and no one noticed?  Surprise, surprise!

As a point of reference, 55,000 tons is about the weight of an average aircraft carrier.

Actually, a passing motorist did notice about a year ago. He called the authorities on his cell phone and explained he crosses this bridge every day, and he noticed the southbound lanes tilting by about three feet. (Later inspections found only one foot, but many drivers have since said the tilt was unmistakable, and it easily felt like three feet.) The person taking the call thanked him for the information, took his number, and told him someone would get back to him. No one ever did.

Nothing happened until a month ago when an engineering firm checking on an unrelated problem noticed the tilt late on a Friday afternoon. They notified the Delaware Department of Transportation who waited until the following Monday to send out inspectors (It can wait. We’re going to the beach!) who immediately closed the bridge. If the tilting piers collapsed, the domino effect could pull down everything. That is when they first noticed those mysterious 55,000 tons of dirt. (Whoa! Where did all that come from?)  It has since been confirmed the weight of the dirt caused the tilt.

More details are quietly emerging on “Who dropped da dirt?” (said like “Here come da Judge”). It seems DuPont owns the land, and one of their contractors dumped the dirt without getting the required environmental permits, let alone tell anybody. When the bridge inspectors got there, they had to cut through a locked chain-link fence that no one knew was there, either.

Delaware being Delaware, there have been no recriminations, firings, or penalties, not even much public outcry except for a sad shrug of resignation.  Our head of the Transportation Department is even being praised for his quick action to insure it will never happen again.  And the dirt has quietly disappeared.

Bottom line, the bridge repairs will cost about $40 million and take until labor day to complete, forcing all traffic onto I-95 through the center of Wilmington in the busiest season. It is a huge mess, but we natives know when and how to avoid the long backups. The federal government is picking up the tab, so thanks, all you taxpayers. And if you travel anywhere through Delaware, be sure to watch for our famous tilting bridges.

(Missouri is known as the “Show me” state. Delaware is becoming the “Unobservant” state. In today’s newspaper, a guy who frequently runs for state offices but has never gotten elected was acquitted by a judge of child pornography charges. They found 50 pornographic photos of children on his computer, but he claimed not to know they were there, even though he subscribed to several child pornography newsgroups, and prosecutors could not prove he ever looked at them. In Delaware, the world is full of surprises.)

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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