A fix costing nearly half a million dollars will finally begin this summer on a $5 million bridge that was built six inches too low.
Five years after Delaware transportation officials discovered the mistake, they've hired a new construction firm to raise the bridge high enough so that trains carrying two stacked containers can pass underneath. Those trains need at least 21 feet, 6 inches of clearance.
The Delaware Department of Transportation spent more than $5 million in 2011 to accommodate these trains by rebuilding the overpass, reported The News Journal. They think they know what caused the error: surveyors mistakenly measured the clearance from the ground up, rather than from the top of the track's steel rails, said Barry Benton, DelDOT's state bridge engineer.
"It pains me as much as anybody else to have to spend money to have to raise a bridge that was just built five year ago when I have other needs to spend the money on," said Benton.
CSX Corporation, which owns the tracks, declined the state's request for a waiver to keep the new bridge as built.
This was a big loss of taxpayer dollars, but such mistakes also can be "teachable moments," Federal Highway Administration spokesman Doug Hecox said charitably. "Incidents like this ... actually serve to make the engineering community more thorough in their work," he said.
Benton said a new DelDOT policy requires surveyors to take three measurements when judging clearances from railroad tracks — one on each side of the rail, and one on top of the rail.
The surveyors who got it wrong in 2007 weren't fired but they have left DelDOT on their own.
"For the next bridge we'll definitely do better, said Benton.