Cape Gazette

Sandy levels dune, closes IR bridge

Crews work to remove sand smothering Route 1
By Ron MacArthur | Nov 02, 2012
An aerial view of the Indian River Inlet Bridge shows the wide southside beach and the northside beach that has all but disappeared, threatening the approach to the bridge. Hurricane Sandy destroyed the dune and covered the highway with 3 feet of sand.

By late afternoon Nov. 1, state transportation officials were still not sure whether the Indian River Inlet bridge would reopen for weekend traffic. The bridge was closed Oct. 28 as Hurricane Sandy approached the Delaware coast.

On Oct. 31, one lane of Route 1 south was opened to emergency vehicles only.

As Hurricane Sandy pushed northward toward the Mid-Atlantic region, a wind-driven high tide and waves pushed tons of sand and water across the highway, eventually reaching across to the marsh on the west side of the roadway. The water came first, followed by blowing sand that piled up quickly as storm conditions worsened during the day and into the night of Oct. 28.

As soon as conditions improved, state officials assessed the situation, and what they saw was astounding.

Several feet of sand covered both sides of Route 1 for half a mile on the north side of the bridge.

At least a half mile of dunes was lost, said Frank Piorko, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Watershed Stewardship. The good news is that nature is already starting to rebuild the destroyed beach, said Tony Pratt, administrator of DNREC's Shoreline and Management Section.

Besides assisting with moving sand off the roadway, DNREC is also getting the sand bypass system up and running to help rebuild the dunes.

The sand bypass system pumps sand from the beach on the south side of the inlet to the beach on the north side. The jetties that protect the inlet impede the normal south-to-north flow of sand along the coast, causing a sand deficit on the north side of the inlet.

A new bypass system was built as part of the Indian River Inlet bridge project. Pratt said the sand pumping system, which was damaged during the storm, should be up and running by Monday, Nov. 5.

The sand forms a protective barrier between the Route 1 and the Atlantic Ocean. “Obviously, Hurricane Sandy eroded much of the barrier, and our goal is to restore it as quickly as possible in case another storm threatens our coast,” said DeDOT spokesman Geoff Sundstrom.

Sundstrom said the first priority was to move sand off the road as quickly as possible and then assess the integrity of the roadway before a decision could be made to reopen the bridge.

A small army of earth moving equipment and staff assistance from DelDOT, DNREC, Delaware National Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and private contractor George & Lynch has been constantly moving sand off the roadway back to the beach since the storm passed through Oct. 30.

Crews are also removing pieces of asphalt from the old bridge access road that were buried deep in the sand but are now exposed.

Sundstrom said discussions among state agencies about rebuilding the beach and preventing future erosion and washouts are ongoing. “It's important that we protect this approach because if we lose this spit of land, we have nothing to build on to the bridge,” Sundstrom said.

Not enough sand near inlet

Pratt said the storm draws attention to an ongoing problem with the beach near the inlet. “The status quo has been a sand deficit to begin with,” he said. He said the key player in any sand replenishment project is in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for inlet projects. He said state officials will likely request additional sand from outside sources through the corps. “It needs immediate attention,” he said, adding the area has never been part of a beach replenishment project. “The corps knows the federal government has the obligation.”

He said the beach on the north side of the inlet should have a 100-foot-wide dune with a 200-foot-wide beach, just like Rehoboth Beach, to provide protection to Route 1 and the bridge.

Pratt said DNREC and corps staff are in the process of taking surveys to determine how much sand eroded and how much sand remains in order to make plans for the future.


An army of workers move sand off Route 1 to rebuild the destroyed dune line near the Indian River Inlet bridge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Delaware National Guard equipment helps move sand back to the beach. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Earth movers clear a path on the southbound lane of Route 1. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Sand and ocean water flowed over Route 1 into the marshes on the other side of the highway. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
As of Oct. 31, a lot of sand still must be moved off the northbound lane of Route 1. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Crews work to remove water and sand from Route 1 in an effort to get the Indian River Inlet bridge open. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Sand and brush from a one-half mile section along Route 1 is gone. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Comments (2)
Posted by: Raymond Delario | Nov 02, 2012 13:55

Interesting comment Mr. Pratt had on the known sand deficit. Sounds as though we will always be maintaining the replenishment because that issue as we know never goes away.

After all the problems with the original design build project coupled with the current bridge cost, it opens up the question who's making these monumental decisions?

For the amount of money that has been spent up to now along with future sand replenishment(s), why didn't we build a precast causeway such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel? Their southbound span costs in 1999 was $250M, took only 46 months to complete by the same GC Skanska. However those cost included a 3,100 ft steel bridge and over 15 miles of pile supported causeway.

With the money we spent we could have had a design that curved away from a constantly battered coastline and tied into Massey's Landing as well...but hey what do I know?

Posted by: Barry Wayne Price | Nov 03, 2012 08:04

Great story with great pictures. Well done Ron.

The IR bridge has been plagued with design problems from the get. The cost was astronomical considering the need to disasemble the first edition of base. Minner's administration should have been held accountable.

However, it is what it is Ray, and we have to deal with the problems the new bridge faces into the foreseeable future. let's pray this administration does it's homework.

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The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.