Removal of the historic Lewes railroad swing bridge over the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal has hit a roadblock and will not be happening anytime soon, according to Delaware Department of Transportation officials.
As work progressed into the night Dec. 1, the contractor determined the crane would not be able to safely lift the bridge due to it being heavier than originally estimated, said C.R. McLeod, DelDOT community relations director.
McLeod said the estimate was 70 tons, and although the actual weight is much heavier, the contractor is working to get an accurate bridge weight by jacking it up, he said. The crane was removed from the site Dec. 2.
“DelDOT, the design consultant, and the contractor are currently re-evaluating the plan and determining a path forward before proceeding. DelDOT will provide additional updates as next steps are finalized,” McLeod said.
A plan to lift and transport the 105-year-old bridge to a new display site was abruptly halted just after 8 p.m., Dec. 1. The bridge move was supposed to be completed that day.
Crews from contractor Richard E. Pierson Construction Company had been working at the bridge site along Gills Neck Road since early November to prepare it for the move to American Legion Road where the road intersects a trail between Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park.
The site contained a small army of workers, trucks, a large crane and other equipment, including several tractor-trailers staged along Freeman Highway to haul in counterweights to be placed on the crane.
The plan was to secure bridge near the new site and lift it again Dec. 3 onto its new foundation at an interpretive display area.
A large crowd gathered Dec. 1 around 1 p.m., which was the anticipated move time. Clearing the bridge deck of metal pieces appeared to be slowing down the operation. A worker with a cutting torch could be seen working on the bridge for most of the day. The bridge wasn't secured to the crane with spreader beams and hoist ropes until after 6 p.m.
Members of the Lewes Junction Railroad & Bridge Association were on hand throughout the day. The association was formed to advocate to save the bridge from being scrapped. Through the cooperation of DelDOT, the City of Lewes and the association, a plan was developed to identify an area where the bridge could be displayed and interpreted.
The bridge was deemed unsafe in 2017 after it was discovered scouring around its supports had dropped the bridge 7 to 8 inches. The railroad line from Cool Spring to Lewes was later decommissioned and removed; it became a section of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. The bridge is one of the last remaining hand-operated swing bridges in the country.
DelDOT awarded a $2.2 million contract to Richard E. Pierson to remove and relocate the swing bridge. The project also includes removal of the embankment on the marsh side of the canal, and construction of a trailhead and fishing area at the end of the trail along the canal side.