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DelDOT Officials: Agency Missed Several Opportunities To Close Tilting I-495 Bridge Before June

By Jan Carabeo

WILMINGTON, Del., (CBS) -- DelDOT officials say the agency missed several opportunities to close the tilting I-495 bridge before June. The finding is part of an internal investigation released Thursday.

The investigation details what action was taken by DelDOT officials following two emergency calls by concerned drivers and an email by an engineering firm.

"It is very clear to me that we did not take appropriate action," Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt said.

The bridge over the Christina River was closed between Terminal Avenue and 12th Street in Wilmington on June 2nd when an inspection found four pairs of support piers were tilting.

The first warning received by DelDOT was an emergency call on April 15, more than six weeks before the bridge closed to traffic.

"The bridge appears to be separating," Wilmington businessman Charles Allen Jr. says in a 911 call.

The investigation found that an assistant supervisor performed a drive-by inspection of the bridge that evening on April 15 and noticed a separation between the north and southbound decks. The supervisor then requested an inspector take a look the next day.

But that inspector, a consultant to DelDOT from century engineering, reported nothing out of the ordinary.

"We will be following up with them in the next week to better understand the actions of their employee," Bhatt said, adding that Allen's observation was spot on.

DelDOT says members if its own Bridge Section were not notified of the two inspections or Allen's call.

That division only first heard of a problem on Thursday, May 29th, when an engineering firm reported the tilting piers.

Then, on May 30th, another driver called 911 about the problem.

According to the report, a DelDOT engineer didn't step foot on site until the following Monday.

"When someone calls about a bridge, it should be our standard practice that we go out immediately," Bhatt said.

DelDOT say the tilting was caused by a 50,000 ton pile of dirt placed near the bridge by a Wilmington contractor.

The agency says it wants to make sure that doesn't happen again. As a result, new policies are now in place.

They include expanding the scope of the inspection process of bridges, especially keeping a close eye on areas with soft soils and heavy loads.

Also now in place is a new process of responding to high priority conditions, like a bridge's structural integrity. A district superintendent will be required to review a high priority road condition immediately, along with bridge management immediately.

Meanwhile Thursday, DelDOT released new video of the bridge reconstruction project.

(Click HERE to view)

The bridge is still on schedule to re-open on Labor Day, the southbound lanes first, followed by the northbound lanes two weeks to a month later.

In the meantime, officials recommended checking the live traffic cameras and traveling during off-peak hours, especially this holiday weekend.

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