The damaged Delaware River Bridge connecting the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes reopened late Thursday.
The damaged bridge was originally slated to be shut down through at least early April as crews work to repair a major crack in the span's steel, but repairs took less time than expected. The eastbound lanes of the bridge opened around 10:00 p.m. Westbound lanes were opened around 10:45.
“We pledged to reopen the bridge as soon as we could do so safely,” said New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Richard T. Hammer, who serves as chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority board. “Thanks to a round-the-clock effort involving dozens of engineers, contractors, scientists, and other workers, we are able to get that done much sooner than we expected with every confidence that it will be safe for the motorists who depend on it.”
A large vertical crack was discovered by an worker inspecting a new paint job in January. The fracture was located in a truss holding up the bridge's road deck on the Pennsylvania side.
“Many people were greatly inconvenienced by this closure over the last seven weeks, and I know that everyone is excited to get this bridge reopened and to see their lives return to normal,” said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “Without a doubt, this incident was a bad dream for the two turnpike agencies and the contractors and consultants on our team, but a nightmare for customers and neighbors.”
The bridge, which carries 42,000 vehicles a day between the two highways, was immediately shut down and remained closed causing major detours and traffic trouble. It's not clear what caused the crack to form or how long it had been there.
The repair team was able to bolster the truss with a temporary splice and use hydraulic jacks, each capable of lifting 600 tons, held by 80-foot-high towers, to re-align the truss.
The bridge was re-aligned and officials say the workers were able to build a permanent splice to repair the fractured truss.
Earlier in the week, test loads were driven over the bridge to determine it was safe to re-open.
“We will continue to monitor loads and stresses on the bridge,” said NJTA Chief Engineer Robert Fischer. “The temporary sensors will remain for now. In the coming months, we expect to install a system for monitoring the health of the bridge over the long term.”
PA Turnpike Chief Engineer Brad Heigel confirmed that two mis-drilled holes were identified as the primary factors that lead to the fracture in the truss. He also said that weeks of hands-on inspection of the entire bridge and extensive inspection found no other such holes.
“We continue to look at other factors such as air temperature and loads like heavy trucks or high winds that may have had an impact when the fracture occurred,” Heigel said. “But getting a definitive answer as to why it happened is akin to solving a 60-year-old mystery perpetuated by unseen offenders. We may never know for sure what all the factors were that caused the fracture,” Heigel said.