- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Delaware’s transportation secretary ordered immediate inspections of major bridges in the state on Thursday to see if they might have any problems similar to an interstate bypass that had to close in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, the extent of the damage that thousands of cars whizzed past daily before officials realized the bridge was tilting became clear: One of the concrete barriers separating the northbound and southbound lanes popped up 18 inches higher than the other. They are supposed to be the same height.

“This is unbelievable,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said during a tour of the Interstate 495 span, a critical bypass along I-95.

The bridge, which typically carries about 90,000 vehicles daily, has been closed since Monday, snarling traffic on the crucial north-south artery. It will be weeks, perhaps longer, before it reopens.

The problems with the bridge were first reported to state officials by an engineer last week. Dave Charles told The Associated Press on Thursday that he was working near the bridge and noticed it appeared to be tilting. He said he sent emails with photos to an employee of the transportation department’s bridge unit at about 6 p.m. May 29 and the official verified he’d received them.

His account raises questions about the urgency with which state officials responded.

The state transportation department said this week it didn’t learn of the bridge trouble until Friday, May 30. An examination wasn’t done until Monday.

When asked about the discrepancy, Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt told AP late Thursday that a low-level contact was made May 29 and relayed to senior management the next day.

He has said his agency acted appropriately and reiterated that it “did not have information it could reliably act on until Monday.”

The governor praised the engineer, who saw cracking in the soil around a massive pile of dirt dumped near the bridge and then spotted the leaning columns.

“He was highly observant that something didn’t look quite right,” Markell said.

The federal government authorized an initial $2 million for repairs and pledged to pick up 90 percent of the total tab because the bridge is part of an interstate. The total cost of repairs is not yet known.

Bhatt said at least part of the pile was on the state’s property and a fence that had cordoned off the government’s land had been removed.

Bhatt said his agency was checking under major bridges to make sure the state’s property is properly marked.

“I want eyes on all those bridges immediately,” he told AP.

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