State officials are once again delivering some disappointing news to those who are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the Central Avenue Bridge in Laurel. Town people were frustrated when just before the annual Fourth of July celebration state transportation officials announced the bridge would not be re-opened until sometime in August.
Now, as mid-August approaches, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has reported that the Central Avenue Bridge will not be re-opened to traffic until sometime late in September. DelDOT also wants to ensure that the public is aware that though the bridge is slated to open at that time, it does not mean clear sailing right away.
“There will still likely be intermittent lane closures after this date (late September) as the contractor works to complete the project,” according to DelDOT Public Relations Director, Charles “C.R.” McLeod. He said several issues have affected the bridge project’s completion date.
“The installation of the new pile foundation required more time than was originally estimated as well as working around the in-water environmental restrictions imposed by DNREC that prevented the completion of work in the water for three months,” he said.
More recently, McLeod said weather has played a role in construction progress. “No additional environmental issues have contributed at this time; however, weather conditions can always impact the project schedule. More specifically, the recent series of late afternoon thunderstorms has caused some potential delay to the schedule,” he said.
When contacted about the most recent delay in the Central Avenue Bridge construction project, Laurel Mayor John Shwed expressed his frustration, but offered no direct comments about the bridge delay. “I am as frustrated as our citizens and impacted business owners about the continued delays,” he said. “DelDOT is responsible for completion of the project. I will let them communicate the bridge status to our people.”
The Central Avenue Bridge was last rehabilitated in 1992. It closed on May 15, 2018, and was originally estimated to be completed in January 2019. The project was delayed by three months last summer due to a restriction on any work happening in the water during sturgeon migration. Shortly following this delay, it was discovered that additional time was needed to complete the enhanced pier foundation in the river to support the nearly 100 year-old bridge structure.
In late June, when the state announced that the bridge would not be completed in time for the July 4th celebration, DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohen issued a statement explaining the complexities involved in the type of bridge rehabilitation being undertaken on the Central Avenue Bridge.
“We share the community’s frustration that this project has taken much longer than anticipated,” she said. “It is often easier and faster to build a new bridge than rehabilitate an old one, as it is a more complex project where more work can be required than initially planned. We have seen that happen here as the work on this historic structure has encountered numerous issues that has slowed progress and prevented the contractor, Eastern Highway Specialists, from meeting the latest expected completion date.”
It was at that time that Cohen stated that the bridge construction contractor would be paying a penalty assessment of $1,060 per day for every day after June 28, 2019 that the project is not completed. DelDOT said that penalty is being assessed and will continue throughout the duration of the bridge project.
DelDOT owns and maintains over 1,600 bridges in Delaware. The department’s Bridge Management Section inspects every bridge at least once every two years and compiles a list of bridges that require some type of work. DelDOT’s Division of Maintenance or on-call contractors can handle some of the work activities. According to DelDOT, these types of repairs are generally preventative maintenance or minor repair activities that enable the life of the bridge to be extended.
However, there are situations, like that involving the Central Avenue Bridge, when a bridge has reached a condition where major repairs need to occur, or the condition and age of the bridge make it more cost effective to replace the bridge with a new one. These are considered capital projects and fall under the direction of the state’s Bridge Preservation Program.
According to DelDOT, the Central Avenue Bridge is the oldest surviving bascule highway bridge in Delaware and one of the last two surviving Scherzer rolling lift bridges in the state. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to the Laurel Historic District.