A lawsuit filed by the Delaware Department of Transportation against consultants it used for the new Indian River bridge has raised questions about its timing from at least one state representative.


A lawsuit filed by the Delaware Department of Transportation against consultants it used for the new Indian River bridge has raised questions about its timing from at least one state representative.

The lawsuit was filed almost three years after DelDOT embarked on an investigation into why the multi-million dollar bridge remains unusable because of instability, and comes on the heels of recent land-deal controversies surrounding the department, said Rep. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, in a press release.

“There seems to be a troubling pattern that’s developed in recent years with DelDOT,” Rep. Lavelle said. “The new operational protocol seems to use the courts to point the finger of blame away from DelDOT. Where’s this agency’s accountability?”

DelDOT filed the $19.6 million suit Jan. 28 in the Superior Court for Sussex County against bridge design firm Figg Bridge Engineers, Inc. and its geotechnical subconsultant MACTEC Engineering and Consulting, Inc. for geotechnical errors in connection with the Indian River Inlet Bridge replacement project. The suit asserts that MACTEC, as a sub-consultant for Figg, failed to account for the nature and extent of settlement of soil under the earthen roadway embankments constructed as the roadway approaches over the inlet. The suit further alleges that MACTEC provided erroneous information regarding the soil settlement to DelDOT.?

“DelDOT hired industry leading engineer experts, who conducted a thorough and comprehensive review to determine why the roadway embankments failed and who should bear responsibility for those failures,” said DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks in the release. “The investigation revealed that the failures resulted from geotechnical engineering errors. We worked to resolve these issues without litigation, but we have been unable to reach a resolution that’s fair to taxpayers. We are now seeking a resolution in court.”?

However, Lavelle contends that it’s DelDOT’s responsibility to guarantee good quality.

“DelDOT relies on contractors to do much of its design work and while it remains to be determined by a court if these companies failed to meet their obligations, I think DelDOT failed in its duty to properly oversee this work,” he said. “It wasn’t until this job was nearly complete, and the shifting of the ramps was easily observable by passing motorists, that DelDOT knew they had a real big problem on its hands …

“Just a few yards away, DelDOT had a proven method for building approach ramps. The ramps to the existing bridge had been in use for more than four decades, proving the viability of that method. Instead, the agency plowed forward using a method that one its own staffers likened to ‘placing a brick on a bowl of Jell-O.’”

In response to the suit, MACTEC denied the allegations, citing DelDOT’s actions, project management and decision-making as the factors that led to increased costs for the bridge. In a press release, the firm stated a truly objective, fact-based review of the chronology of events, DelDOT’s responsibilities and DelDOT’s decisions, including withholding of key information from Figg and MACTEC with the approval from the highest level in DelDOT, would result in dismissal of the complaint.