DelDOT accelerating Iron Branch bridge replacement on southbound US 113

At right, Jonathan Karam, DelDOT’s project engineer for the Iron Branch bridge project, fields a question during DelDOT’s presentation at Millsboro town council’s July 2 meeting.

MILLSBORO – Just over 100 years old, original bridgework spanning southbound US 113 over Iron Branch in Millsboro is overdue for replacement.

Delaware’s Department of Transportation plans to play it by the letter – ABC – in its replacement option.

DelDOT is opting to replace the southbound portion with a new three-sided concrete precast frame under an Accelerated Bridge Contract. Construction work is tentatively scheduled for spring 2019, probably sometime in March.

This ABC contract option is projected to take two weeks as opposed to six months or more for a traditional contract that would involve extensive traffic disruption and residential and commercial inconvenience.

DelDOT plans to hold a public workshop, probably sometime in August in finalizing its decision.

“Accelerated is our plan,” said Jason N. Hastings, DelDOT state bridge engineer during DelDOT’s PowerPoint presentation to Millsboro council and town leaders at council’s July 2 meeting. “Barring major outcry of people wanting a longer, slower project, we expect this will be the way we will go. We’re moving full force to get it done that way.”

The bridge over the Iron Branch stream is located near several businesses – Auto Zone, Hardee’s and La Tonalteca – on busy DuPont Boulevard (US 113).

Jonathan Karam, DelDOT’s project engineer for this project, said the southbound portion of the bridge is in “very bad shape.”

Mr. Hastings clarified that. “When we say they are in ‘very bad shape,’ it’s not currently a safety issue. It’s safe to drive over. I don’t want to scare people to thinking the bridge is going to fall down,” Mr. Hastings said. “It’s just like when you try to take care of your own house and start to see a leak in your roof. You know it’s going to be a big problem. You’ve got to go fix that leak. So, don’t walk out of here thinking the bridge is going to fall.”

“With this accelerated technique we believe that we can get this done in 14-day closure of just southbound,” said Mr. Karam. “So, it will be a full detour of southbound lanes just at where the bridge location is. It will not require any temporary paving. There will not be any disruption in northbound traffic. And access to businesses and residences will be maintained throughout the entire project. It also promotes a safer construction for the workers since they are in an enclosed work space; they don’t have traffic driving right alongside of them.”

Should DelDOT go with the ABC option, construction work will be ongoing 24/7.

The proposed local traffic detour for southbound US 113: Radish Road, Hickory Hill Road to Handy Road.

DelDOT’s game plan to accommodate southbound traffic entails two detours.

A detour for local traffic would encompass Radish Road, Hickory Hill Road and Handy Road, shifting traffic behind the Peninsula Crossing commercial area. “This would only be the southbound lanes,” Mr. Karam said. “Northbound would not be impacted.”

Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway said his concerns “would be large trucks, because you are making them take two turns.”

“This is just for the local traffic,” said Mr. Karam.

That’s where the second detour comes into play.

“We actually have a separate truck detour as well,” said Mr. Karam.

DelDOT’s proposed detour for truck traffic from southbound US 113 includes SR 24 (Laurel Road) to SR 30 to SR 26 (Nine foot Road) back US 113 at Dagsboro.

“It’s going to take them all the way around. It will tie into (SR) 26,” said Mr. Karam. “It’s a bit longer. But this is just for trucks.”

Mr. Karam said preliminary projections are the ABC project will run about $1 million dollars. “We still are doing cost estimate, but it is going to be close to a million bucks,” he said, adding the cost could be double that with traditional bridge replacement techniques.

The Iron Branch Bridge is part of Delaware’s state-owned bridge inventory maintained by DelDOT’s Bridge Section.

The core of the bridge is an original two-lane structure constructed in 1916 to carry the then new T. Coleman du Pont Highway over Iron Branch. It consists of concrete-encased steel beams and concrete abutments.

“Those were great back in the 1920s and 1930s when they were built. Unfortunately, they have a life of like 50 years and here we are 80, 90 years later,” said Mr. Hastings. “We see a lot of corrosion in the steel beams. For us it’s time to replace that structure. The good thing is it’s only the portion that’s under the (US) 113 southbound side. The bad news is that we have to replace that structure. So obviously, it’s going to be an impact to the town.”

The original bridge was modified twice over the years, first to accommodate wider shoulders and then in 1965 to dualize US 113 as it is today.

While other alternatives were considered, the annual average daily traffic (AADT) count of nearly 31,000 vehicles, the impact on local business and improved work zone safety were major factors in DelDOT choosing the accelerated option.

DelDOT estimates total replacement of both southbound and northbound employing traditional techniques would take months to complete and require about 4,500 feet of temporary pavement to reroute traffic.

“Traditionally, if we were to install this full replacement, do the traffic shifts, lane closures, all of that, you’re going to have about eight months of construction time. I know it doesn’t sound good, and it’s very expensive to maintain traffic,” Mr. Karam said. “With that lane shift you’re going to have to pave pretty much the entire median. And there is such high truck traffic there, we’re looking at like over a foot of paving that we would have to do throughout the entire thing. You’re talking 4,500 feet, that is a big impact – all of the residents along that route are going to impacted.”

“Eight months of impact to both directions of US 113 through the center of Millsboro. We have all driven through every day and we know what the traffic is like today,” Mr. Hastings said. “So, as a program, we’re looking at doing bridge projects in a more accelerated manner. Not just in Delaware, but across the country.”

Mr. Hastings emphasized huge benefits of the accelerated option.

“The cost is greatly reduced because we are not doing all of the temporary paving to the north and south of the bridge. If we had done the lane shifts – southbound traffic over to the northbound lanes – we would have essentially cut off all those crossovers,” he said. “By doing it this way where are detouring traffic in the southbound direction, we keep northbound fully at capacity. We keep our crossovers open so that northbound access into the businesses on the southbound side is maintained. Now obviously, that detour is significant. We are talking about (US) 113. During day we’re going to have police operate the intersections to help keep traffic flow.”

“We’re putting back the same type of structure that is on the northbound side. Fifty years later, it looks brand new. We expect something very similar,” said Mr. Hastings. “We won’t be back out here messing around with that structure. I know DelDOT has other long-term plans for 113 and the area.”

Mr. Hastings said the accelerated project will require a couple weeks of advance pre-work, during the night with no closures during the day, as well as some post-construction work such as guard-rail work and landscape seeding.

The contract will include contractor incentives and disincentives for the project to be completed within the timeline.

“We looked at this from many different angles and we think this is the best way to go. It’s a lot of pain but it’s for a short period of time,” said Mr. Hastings. “What we have found, and not just in Delaware but across the country, is people are more willing to bite the bullet for a short period of time if it means we are not out there messing up their life for eight months or six years or a year. That is our goal. It’s to get in, get out and get done.”

To access information online, visit: https://www.deldot.gov/information/projects/bridges/us113_BR3-507/.

Corrected brochure

DelDOT’s PowerPoint presentation and brochures handed out at the June 2 council meeting had an incorrect local traffic detour route. DelDOT is working with the town to get a corrected brochure distributed to all those in attendance.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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