ROADS/BRIDGES: Delaware DOT tries to recoup $43 million from I-495 repair efforts

Officials had ordered the bridge closed after lanes were found to be tilting, presenting clear danger to drivers

Law News April 17, 2015
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The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is taking action to recover some of the nearly $43 million spent on I-495 emergency bridge repairs in Wilmington last year, drawing up a demand for insurance coverage details from those potentially responsible for damaging the span.
 
The subjects of the monetary recovery efforts, according to DelDOT spokesman Geoff Sundstrom, are Alma Properties LLC, Port Contractors and owners of Keogh Contracting. The I-495 bridge over the Christina River was shut down on June 2, 2014, in east Wilmington after lanes were found to be tilting along both northbound and southbound approach spans immediately south of the waterway. Gridlock was born following the establishment of a detour route as motorists were caught without good alternatives. Snail-trail traffic, notably during rush hours, throughout the summer.
 
An investigation tied the trauma to an unauthorized soil stockpile dumped by Keogh, which is owned by James B. Thomas Jr., son of a founder of Port Contractors, the company that leased the DuPont Co.-owned land where Keogh dumped the soil, alongside key bridge supports. The mass of material compressed soft soils around deep foundation piles, damaging them and the bases of some concrete supports, throwing the spans off balance.
 
At present, though actions are moving forward, lawyers for DelDOT are treading softly and with deliberation, making evaluations of the financial position of the companies in question. Sundstrom said that DelDOT’s attorney and representatives from Ober Kaler met with lawyers for all three companies in late March to discuss a damage settlement short of litigation. “Of course, we would like to see not only Delaware but the federal government made whole,” Sundstrom said, “but it's recognized that that may not be feasible, outside of insurance payments. There is the possibility of bankrupting responsible parties in any litigation of this type. If that were to happen, the state would have difficulty recovering money.”
 
The traffic disruptions caused by the damaged road closure drew national attention, an emergency declaration and assistance from the Federal Highway Administration, along with a nationwide call-out for key supplies needed to repair the bridge. International attention followed when, in July of last year, President Obama gave a speech at the nearby Port of Wilmington on the topic of increased spending on the nation's infrastructure.

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