By Tim Jimenez and Jan Carabeo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tri-state commuters could soon learn a better timeline on when the tilting I-495 bridge in Wilmington will reopen. DelDOT says it’ll detail plans during a briefing Tuesday.
Meanwhile, there’s growing evidence of a cause and new concerns about when officials first got word of a problem at the bridge.
We’re hearing from a Wilmington businessman who says he called about the bridge about six weeks before officials decided to shut it down.
Charles Allen Junior left his Wilmington auto body shop on the evening of April 15th. He was headed home and says he was driving on the I-495 bridge, which he’s been using for years. But he called 9-1-1, because in his words, “The bridge appears to be separating.”
The call was obtained by CBS3 Eyewitness News.
“The bridge appears to be separating,” Allen said in his emergency call. “I drive this bridge everyday, have been doing it for 25 years. I just noticed on my way home, that the median is separated by about a foot.”
He says he couldn’t get through to DelDOT and felt like he had no choice but to call 9-1-1.
“I think it may be an emergency. There may be something seriously wrong with that bridge.”
He says someone with DelDOT called him five minutes later, but he can’t believe the bridge remained open for another month-and-a-half.
DelDOT is investigating.
Meanwhile, the removal of 50,000 tons of dirt continued on Monday and was expected to completed by the day’s end.
DelDOT says soil near the affected sections of bridge rebounded slightly over the weekend, providing further evidence that the weight of the dirt could have caused the support columns to tilt.
Experts at the University of Delaware are becoming more convinced as well.
“I think at this point, that’s the most likely culprit,” Michael Chajes, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware said. “The analogy I use for what happened: It’s almost like you had a beach umbrella and you put your post in the sand and someone really heavy stood on one side of it, right next to it, and tilted that umbrella post over.”
The school’s engineers are consulting DelDOT on its designs for a solution.
“The design will very likely be drilling holes into the soil and putting reinforced concrete piles all the way down to the bedrock,” Chajes said. “At that point, they will be able to reuse the top portion of the bridge and jack that in place.”
As for how the huge pile of dirt came to rest beside the bridge, the City of Wilmington says none of the required paperwork was ever filed, but the investigation is still underway.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control requires that a sediment and stormwater management plan be submitted for any activity, such as dumping dirt, that impacts an area greater than 5,000 square feet.
CBS3 reached out to the private contractor who owns this dirt, Jim Thomas of Keogh Contracting. He said he was too busy to talk.
Thomas made the same statement last week, adding he was too busy meeting with his attorneys.