Questions grow about bridge closure, dirt mountain

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware transportation department officials have examined aerial images as they investigate a mountain of dirt that grew to about two stories high and 100 yards long over the past few years, possibly causing an interstate bridge just a few yards away to tilt.

Engineers think that as a contractor dumped more and more dirt next to Interstate 495 bridge, the ground shifted under the weight and caused the bridge columns to start tilting. The bridge, a bypass that helps alleviate congestion on I-95 through Wilmington, Delaware, and normally carries about 90,000 vehicles daily, has been closed since Monday. It will be at least several weeks before it is reopened.  

Gov. Jack Markell planned to visit the site Thursday. As questions mounted, state officials said part of the dirt pile appeared to be on state land, and that a fence that once cordoned off the government’s property had been removed.

“In 2012, there was some stuff out there but not very much; in 2013, a little more,” Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said of Google Earth images showing the mound grow. “Right now obviously there’s a lot more dirt.”

The contractor is working with state officials to remove the dirt from the site, which he was allowed to use under an arrangement with a company that leases land next to the bridge. “I have absolutely no idea what happened, I really don’t,” said James Thomas Jr., 60. “I’m not a structural engineer. I’m not a bridge engineer.”

Officials have said a system to shore up and brace the bridge will have to be designed, which will take weeks. State officials do not have an estimated price tag but have indicated they might seek federal funds to help pay for the repairs.

Bhatt said officials did not know about the dirt mound until Monday, when engineers visited the bridge in response to a report received late last week. That report came from an engineer with a private company who was in the area on an unrelated project and saw cracking in the soil around the dirt pile. The engineer then spotted the leaning columns and contacted the transportation agency.

Built in 1974, the bridge is scheduled for inspection every two years and was last examined in October 2012. Thomas, who sells the dirt for fill, said he has worked in the area around the Port of Wilmington, just down the road from the bridge, for 41 years, running a paving company and other businesses. He said no one has ever expressed concern about him storing it next to the bridge.

The DuPont Co. owns the land where the dirt is located and leases it out to a materials handing company called Port Contractors Inc. Thomas’s company, Keogh Contracting, has an arrangement with Port Contractors, which was founded by his father, to store dirt on the property.

Michael Evanko, president of Port Contractors, said the company is allowing Thomas to temporarily store the dirt being removed from underneath the bridge on another parcel just down the road.

4 thoughts on “Questions grow about bridge closure, dirt mountain

  1. If the guy put the dirt there with the leaseholder’s permission he’s not liable for damage to the bridge, and probably shouldn’t be responsible for moving it either.

  2. This sounds like bullsh..t, in my younger days I was a carpenter on a number of bridges, drive pile 65′ to 70′ to bedrock, a 15′ square pile cap, columns and road deck. Sounds like a scam to me.

    1. Hi Joe,


      The support piles (columns) of the bridge extend very deep into the ground.

      Any additional weight “nearby” will create compressive force exterting downward, and radiating outward at approx a 45 degree angel from the edge,.. or near-edge of the dirt pile, but is distributed across the entire surface area of ground the dirt pile is occupying,.. which means only a very small amount of the deforming pressure is actually vectoring towards the bridge columns.

      In the end,… the additional weight created by the dirt pile could NOT possible be causing a displacement effect some 50, 60,.. 100 (I don’t know how many feet down these piles go, as each bridge is designed according to local soil/bedrock conditions) feet down at the pile footings,.. unless all the weight was being carried down BY the columns themselves, to the pile footings or bedrock (meaning the dirt would need to be piled ON the bridge), which it is clearly not.

      Something is WAY WRONG with this accusation.


  3. Hahhahhahah, freaking yellow pages
    yeah right a pile of dirt on top of the ground is causing one of their failed engineering jobs to come out looking like a 2 year old built it

    act just like government and shift the blame away from yourself

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