The Delaware Memorial Bridge is undergoing needed infrastructure improvements.

DRBA details millions going to bridge, airport infrastructure

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Government

The Delaware Memorial Bridge is undergoing needed infrastructure improvements.

The Delaware Memorial Bridge is undergoing needed infrastructure improvements.

Delaware’s infrastructure stole the show in Wednesday’s State of the County for New Castle County.

Stephen Williams, deputy executive director of Delaware River Bay Authority, told an audience of about 200 that the Authority is focusing on the importance of replacing aging infrastructure and investing in the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which links the First State to New Jersey. 

Some of the authority’s priorities with old infrastructure, he said, include bridges, I-295, ferry vessels and airports. 

“Over $300 million for the next five years is to be spent on bridge initiatives alone,” he said. 

Williams was one of more than a dozen speakers at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce meeting held at the University of Delaware. It focuses largely on government, business and development, not social issues.

After an introduction from County Executive Matt Meyer, the conference was split into four sections: real estate development, infrastructure improvement, innovative ecosystem and a panel with the mayors of Middletown, Newark and Elsmere. 

While the other portions contained information on community partnerships, newly-built apartment complexes and stores, renewable energy, internet access and more, the 30 minutes on infrastructure offered the most meat.

The Authority is in year nine of a 12 year rehabilitation process for the Memorial Bridge, Williams said. 

So far, it’s completed tower elevator replacement, pier rehabilitation, cable preservation and tower pin and link replacement.

“We do this because the aging infrastructure essentially deteriorates, and you are all aware of what happened on I-95 just recently, with an accident that took on the northbound lanes of I-95 and how disruptive that was,” Williams said. “So the important thing for us is ensuring that we’re completing repairs and we’re continuing with infrastructure improvements.”

After a truck in Philadelphia caught fire, a portion of an I-95 bridge collapsed. That led to an  all-hands-on-deck approach and support for the federal government since that highway is a crucial artery in the region. 

That kind of emergency situation is something Williams said needs to be prevented at all costs. 

“It is the first time that we’ve accepted federal funds for the bridge, since under normal circumstances…we have a very specific policy that we’ve used over the years where we don’t compete with DELDOT and New Jersey Transit for federal highway funds for the bridge,” he said. 

One project for the bridge costs $71 million and requires the top two inches of the current bridge deck to be removed and replaced with ultra high-performance concrete.

Another major project for the Memorial Bridge costs $96,136,051 and focuses on a ship collision protection system. 

The system will be designed to prevent vessel collisions with boats going about 8 miles per hour with a dead weight tonnage of 156,000 tons. That includes what the boat carries – cargo, water and fuel – but not the ship itself.

The Authority is purchasing eight concrete pods called bollards, two for each of the four bridge towers. The bollards will be installed in the bed of the river and filled with crushed concrete.

“The goal is to prevent a ship from taking out one of the towers that would disrupt the bridge or damage the bridge in any way,” Williams said.

Construction is already underway, but Williams didn’t give a project timeline. 

Williams also touted Avelo Airlines’ 10-year investment in the Wilmington Airport. The airline  recently added nine routes and four states.

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“That terminal facility is essentially a 1955 footprint, and it hasn’t really changed in all that time,” Williams said. “We’re not able to process more than one flight at a time, and as a matter of fact, this airline is restricted to 90 minutes between departures just to process passengers, because we don’t have the infrastructure to do that.”

The authority is spending about $9 million on improving the airport, specifically enhancing terminal capacity and expanding the holdroom area by 6,000 square feet. 

“We’re a multimodal organization created by an interstate compact created by Congress and have been in operation since 1962, and what is important is that we are not taxpayer funded,” Williams pointed out. 

Among other points made at the half-day conference:

  • Some office buildings in downtown Wilmington are being converted into apartments for high density urban living for everyone from students to high earning adults.
  • Elsmere, Claymont, Downtown Middletown and the surrounding small community are being redeveloped into attractive places for small businesses to settle.
  • DuPont sites are shifting to a new generation of business and corporate citizens, such as pharma firms like Prelude, small chemical companies and more.
  • A DuPont Co. exec told the audience that all the changes have meant a new packaging of the company to remind people that it’s active and thriving.
  • Middletown is growing into a distribution center and bio/Pharma Manufacturing site. It remains the only place in the county adding retail space instead of redeveloping old space.
  • UD’s Innovation Center and Star Campus is known for technology development and employs more people than the Chrysler auto plant it replaced. The FinTech building there is almost full.

George Rotsch, director of communications for Delaware LIVE, contributed to this report. 

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