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Official: Del. Should Have Closed Bridge Sooner

DELAWARE (AP)-- Delaware officials should have closed a damaged interstate bridge sooner and missed opportunities by not having qualified personnel respond quickly to tips about the bridge's deterioration, the state's transportation secretary said Thursday.

Officials have documented a series of missteps leading up to the June 2 emergency closure of the Interstate 495 bridge in Wilmington, transportation secretary Shailen Bhatt said.

Bhatt also disclosed his agency received a second 911 call in late May from a motorist about the bridge over the Christina River. That call followed a 911 call from a driver in April and an engineer's emailed warning in May that bridge columns appeared to be tilting.

Bhatt said his department has implemented new procedures for officials to respond to calls or complaints regarding the conditions of high-priority roads.

The Federal Highway Administration, which has approved emergency relief funds to repair the bridge, has said the bridge's design and construction met applicable standards. The agency also said it appears the bridge has been properly maintained and inspected.

State officials have hired their own geotechnical expert to determine what caused the damage to the bridge, and Bhatt said he could not embrace the federal government's conclusions until he hears definitively from his own consultants.

But state officials have from the beginning suspected that the dirt mound, estimated to weigh about 50,000 tons, caused soft underground soils to move, damaging underground pilings that support the bridge columns. They said the dirt was not present when the bridge was last inspected in October 2012, and they still don't know where the contractor who dumped it got the soil.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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