What’s the Status of Bancroft Bridge?

The Director of Delaware State Parks, Raymond Bivens, met by Zoom with several groups on October 27, 2021, to discuss the Bancroft Footbridge connecting Alapocas Run State Park to Rockford Road. Director Bivens and Matt Ritter (the State) met with Mary Roth, Executive Director of Delaware Greenway, Inc. (DGI), Jed Patterson, President of the DGI board and Gary Linarducci, Member of DGI and HCA boards.

We discussed the damage to the bridge that occurred when it flooded on September 2, 2021. Mr. Bivens showed us some photos taken shortly after the flood, which showed that the bridge appeared to have been moved and some steel girders have been separated. The bridge appears to have been significantly damaged.

We asked if there was any way to temporarily open the bridge with reduced foot traffic and supervision to avoid crowding, but the State will not allow anyone on the bridge until and unless a structural engineer inspects the bridge and signs off on its safety. At this time, the engineer hired by the State said that he would have to disassemble the bridge and inspect each part of the bridge before he would sign off on it. Director Bivens advised us that this inspection process alone, before any repairs take place, would take approximately 6 months.

The two paths provided by the State are to either completely rebuild the bridge or undertake extensive repair efforts to the existing bridge. Neither option would provide a faster timeline necessarily. DNREC did seem to lean toward building an entirely new bridge because the current bridge is too low to the river and most of the support elements of the bridge are on the bottom of the bridge. There is a good chance that if the existing bridge was repaired, it would be damaged again in future floods which may occur with more frequency.

The State obtained a report from an engineering firm, Century Engineering, which indicated that the bridge sustained substantial damage and due to the uniqueness of the steel bridge, an engineering firm that specializes in steel bridges should be consulted for this project. The State then contacted GPI which will work on an expedited basis to study the bridge and make its recommendations. 

There is an historical value to the bridge, (although the bridge is not on the Historical Register), so the State must work with the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO). The State will also need to determine if permits to work on the bridge will be needed from the Army Corps of Engineers due to the location over the river. Funding does not appear to be a major obstacle to fixing the bridge. Ray said that federal funds have been secured through disaster relief money, and Senator McBride and Representative Brady have made clear a commitment to supporting this work should any future finance issues arise.

Director Bivens stressed that he understands how important this bridge is to the communities in this area, and that the reopening of the bridge has been a priority of the State Department of Parks since its damage by Hurricane Ida, and that his office is proceeding as quickly as possible. He agreed to keep us informed about the progress on the bridge and he agreed to some type of town hall meeting with the public, probably by Zoom.

After Director Bivens met with the DGI delegation, the State met with our elected officials: Senator McBride, Representative Brady and Representative Griffith. Councilman Field had a prior commitment and was unable to attend today’s Zoom meeting with the officials from State Parks. The officials discussed many of the same issues described above with our elected officials. The State sent an email to our representative with a summary of the discussions they had today. A copy of the email is found below.

At 2:30 Friday, October 29, Senator McBride, Representative Brady, Denison Hatch, HCA President, Jed Patterson and I met again to discuss our next steps. We agreed to set up a town hall meeting, through Highlands Community Association. HCA and DGI will also publicize the efforts being made to reopen the bridge as soon as it can safely be done.

What follows is a summary of the discussion between Highlands Community Association representatives, Senator McBride, Representatives and Councilman:

  • Damage to the Bancroft walking bridge is serious and substantial and includes significant bowing and leaning of the bridge structure, some iron support members detached from each other, sheared bolts, and a bridge support that has shifted on the concrete/stone base. This damage, and previous conditions from wear and tear as well, is documented in a report from Century Engineering done days after the storm, which I am sending you.
  • Following the initial inspection and closure by Parks staff engineer, the assessment by Century Engineering that the damage was substantial enough to maintain the closure and bring a firm with expertise in steel bridges for a much more detailed assessment. That firm has conducted onsite visits, submitted a proposal this week for a feasibility study, and that proposal has already been approved. 
  • This feasibility study by Greenman-Pederson, Inc.(GPI) will assess options and costs for both repair and replacement of the bridge. The feasibility study will be completed in January or before. GPI is under contract with DelDOT for Bridge and Structure repair services which expedited getting them on board.  
  • DNREC is committed to replacing or repairing the bridge as it is a vital route of access to the park. It was submitted as part of the public assistance damage assessment to the federal government, which was approved by the President earlier this week, so that will be the source of most of the funding, and meetings with DEMA for storm damage items are happening next week to formalize the requests.
  • When assessing the options, DNREC will view the need to have a bridge in this location that will not be subject to or damaged to similar flooding events in the future, which are likely. The height or the current bridge and the support structure underneath it is not ideal given future funding, but both repair and replacement options will be evaluated and shared with the public. 
  • Regarding repair: There are no plans or drawings of the current bridge that can be used to calculate its strength or assist in repair plans. Repair will require measuring each member (steel columns, beams, bracing, rods, rivets, and bolts) in order to recreate it within design software, determine which pieces must be replaced versus kept, and what the strength of the bridge would be when complete. Just this portion of the repair process – getting to a design for the repair, not the repair itself — could take as much as six months, DNREC has been told.
  • Regarding replacement: Options will be provided for construction of a new bridge or possible use of an existing bridge if a suitable one can be found (a surplus bridge from another state was procured and use in a project at Auburn Valley State Park).

Additional considerations: 

  • The existing bridge is historic and the repair or replacement option chosen will need the approval of the State Historic Preservation Office. 
  • Permits may be required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers based on what will need to be done to piers/supports in the river. 
  • An unused sewage pipe alongside the bridge support piers (seen in photos) has collapsed and may need to be addressed. 
  • To accomplish repair or replacement, access to the site by a crane – either from the condo side where there is currently construction or from the park side where a crane would need to maneuver over two creeks and along a trail – will be challenging.
  • Given the severe nature of the damage, no quick fix of the current bridge, even for reduced capacity, can be responsibly done and assured to be safe. A temporary bridge at Bancroft or new bridge in another spot on the river would require as much cost and time as addressing the Bancroft bridge.
  • Given all the factors discussed, this is a complex project that, even utilizing an accelerated time frame compared to normal projects, will take considerable time to assess options, choose an option and implement it. The project is likely to take into 2023 but we are looking at all avenues to shorten the timeline.  

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