The closure of the I-495 bridge in Wilmington through Labor Day is snarling upstate traffic, but Cape Region business organizations say they anticipate little effect on tourism. Visitors should allow extra drive time when heading south on vacation, they say.
Carol Everhart, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, said as of now, pre-booked rentals for houses, hotels and motels are at an all time high, and she doubts the extra drive time will deter people from losing out.
“It wouldn't stop me if I was headed to the beach for vacation,” she said.
Everhart said there is some concern, but it's too early in the season to know whether the closure will deter beach tourism.
“It will certainly impact the route of the trip, but as of now, concern is all we have. We don't have any results,” she said.
The bridge has been closed since June 2 after an engineer working in the area called Delaware Department of Transportation May 29 to report what appeared to be tilting support columns.
During a press conference in Wilmington June 9, DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt said the estimated cost for the first phase of construction to re-open the bridge is $20 million. He said the cost of permanently fixing the problem is not certain.
Bhatt said work will proceed 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the bridge is reopened.
Ferry traffic unchanged
Delaware River and Bay Authority is expecting the bridge closure to have little effect on the number of passengers that will use the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.
James Salmon, authority public information officer, said the ferry expects a slight increase in traffic as I-95 and I-295 traffic volumes increase – particularly for those travelers in North Jersey, New York and New England traveling to Maryland, Virginia and other points south.
“The ferry does offer a stress-free, relaxing way to avoid traffic headaches,” said Salmon.
Krys Johnson, Rehoboth Main Street executive director, said traffic flow is always a concern because there are few alternative routes available for motorists traveling to the Cape Region from the north. Businesses haven't reported many issues since the bridge closed two weeks ago, she said, but it is still early in the season.
Johnson strongly recommends using the DelDOT real-time traffic information found on the DelDOT website and to plan accordingly.
“It's important to keep up to date and stay informed,” she said. “DelDOT does a very good job at keeping that information up to date. It's a huge resource for us.”
Johnson said as for businesses take reservations, they should stay proactive and remind travelers of potential traffic issues when traveling south.
“As a businesses owner, it's good to just be aware,” she said.
Johnson said there are so many people who travel to the state's beaches during the summer that a road closure as significant as the I-495 bridge is going to play a role in travel time.
“Anything like that is going to affect travel in such a small state,” she said.
Bridge construction work
The plan to reopen the bridge requires stabilizing and realigning of a 400-foot section of the 4,800-foot-long bridge that spans the Christina River, said Bhatt.
This process includes building new concrete-filled shafts down to bedrock beneath the four columns that have tilted out of alignment, creating a stable surface above the underlying unstable soil.
The concrete shafts will then be tied together with one reinforced concrete grade beam. Temporary jacking towers will then be erected on the grade beam to restore the bridge's superstructure to its original position
Once the bridge has been rendered safe for traffic, permanent new concrete columns will be erected taking the place of the jacking towers.
Design for the project is being managed by AECOM, an international company based in New York. Construction will be performed by the York, Pa.-based J.D. Eckman Inc.
Bhatt said both companies have reopened other bridges on the U.S. Interstate highway system, including structures on I-95 in Philadelphia and Wilmington.