By Erin Delmore
A crack in the Delaware River Bridge severe enough to stop traffic for weeks — maybe months. Ensnaring 42,000 daily commuters.
Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said, “It wasn’t a split or a break, it was a complete fracture. In other words the beam was completely pulled apart. There had been some kind of break and there was actually space, you could see daylight in between the beam.”
“That’s as significant a problem as I think you can have on a bridge,” said New Jersey Turnpike Authority Spokesman Tom Feeney.
The fractured bridge truss is a critical support component of the 60-year-old structure and inspectors say it’ll take two weeks just to figure out the extent of the damage and what’s needed by way of repairs.
Feeney explained, “They’re building these eight shoring towers from the ground beneath the bridge to carry the load of the bridge. And that’s going to take several weeks.”
Think of any load-bearing beam in your home. If one of them were to give way, the others would support more weight to make up for it. The same is true of a bridge, but we’re talking about a structure so big and so complex it actually dips a little bit at its weakest point. That’s what crews are working on right now — elevating the bridge back up to its original height. Of course we’re talking about inches, not feet, but it’s still going to take some time.
“This bridge and others like it are designed with redundancy,” said DeFebo. “So there are backups to this beam but it is significant.”
While the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority ruled out corrosion from the elements, its spokesman said the break is “definitely” the result of “an act of nature on a man-made structure.”
“Some of the material has been sent out for analysis to a laboratory at Lehigh University in P.A. The engineers are conducting a lot of monitoring right now, and they’re conducting some surveying, including surveying using HD video. They’re really trying to understand what caused the fracture in the beam,” said DeFebo. “It was very fortunate that the flaw was discovered when it was. Certainly these bridges do get a lot of attention. They get bi-annual inspections, but it was fortunate that it could have sat longer before it was discovered. That’s certainly the case.”
The heavily-trafficked, mile-long bridge connects Burlington Township in New Jersey with Bristol Township in Pennsylvania. It serves as a conduit between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New Jersey Turnpike. Now — detours and delays throughout the region.