Officials Close Bridge That Carries 90,000 People Per Day Because It’s Tilting

CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A worker inspects the underside of the Interstate 495 bridge over the Christina River near Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, June 3, 2014, after it was closed due to the discovery of four tilting support columns. The closure created heavier-than-normal traffic conditions for motorists on Interstate 95, a major East Coast artery.

A major thoroughfare in Delaware was shut down on Tuesday after highway engineers realized it was tilting.

The I-495 bridge over the Christina River was not level by a factor of 4 percent, according to the Washington Post, and there were no guarantees that it wouldn’t collapse if traffic was allowed back on it. The bridge, which carries around 90,000 people per day, was promptly shut down, and traffic was diverted to the already-crowded interstate 95.

“If all the traffic was stopped and you were directing maximum stress and load on that bridge, you could get overload… that could potentially lead to failure,” Shailen Bhatt, state Transportation Secretary, told the AP. “But you never want to overload.”

He added, “It’s not going to be open anytime soon.”

While the factors that contributed to the bridge’s tilting remain unclear (officials are thinking either a ground shift or corrosion), this is the latest example in a disturbing trend of unstable and unsound infrastructure in the United States, where funds for road improvements are sorely needed. The country has faced repeated budget shortfalls on infrastructure spending. Spending on infrastructure projects has fallen by around $60 billion in just a handful of years, and the Highway Trust Fund, which grants federal money for state infrastructure projects, is set to become insolvent this summer.

In Delaware, 53 of the state’s 862 bridges — 6.1 percent — have been deemed structurally deficient by the American Society of Civil Engineers, while 122 of the bridges, 14.3 percent, are “functionally obsolete.”

The Christina River bridge was deemed “fracture critical” in a review of infrastructure this year, but officials say that isn’t the part of the bridge that’s tilting.