Delaware's transportation chief said Tuesday that officials hope to reopen the southbound lanes of an important interstate bridge by Labor Day, but that there's a possibility that it could be closed until early next year.
Officials closed the Interstate 495 bridge over the Christina River on June 2 because supporting columns are tilting. The bridge typically carries about 90,000 vehicles a day.
Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt unveiled a repair plan that calls for drilling new concrete foundations into bedrock to support the bridge and replacing two piers that show the worst tilting.
"We have literally hit the ground running and are very committed to getting this bridge back open," Bhatt said.
Official won't know for at least a couple of weeks whether a 400-foot section of the bridge will have to be torn down and rebuilt as part of the process of putting the new supporting columns in place. If that is the case, the bridge likely will not reopen until later this year or early next year, Bhatt said.
"That is something that we are trying to avoid as an option," he said.
Bhatt refused to criticize his agency's response to notifications from citizens that something was wrong with the bridge, saying the focus is on working to get the bridge reopened. He said a review of whether the transportation department could have responded to the bridge problems will come later.
"If we made mistakes, we will own up to them," Bhatt said.
Officials said they ordered the bridge closed immediately after discovering that the columns were tilting.
But a local businessman made a 911 call on April 15 to report that there appeared to be a problem with the bridge. He was called back that same day by a transportation agency official, but it's not known what if anything was done to check the bridge.
Officials also received a separate notice from an engineer working in the area on May 29 that the bridge appeared to be tilting, but they did not send out an inspection team until the following Monday.