OCEAN CITY – With a little less fanfare but certainly no less drama, the massive barge and crane that inched through the draws span of the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge in October on its way to the Route 90 project returned to the open sea early Tuesday morning after a couple of tense moments.
When the massive “Cape Fear” nudged through the draw span section of the Route 50 Bridge in October, it was accompanied by a flotilla of curious seekers wondering how the 77.5-foot wide barge with its huge crane towering above was going to navigate through the 78-foot wide gap in the span. Of course, the barge and crane combo eased through the draw span without incident and assisted with the successful and early completion of the Route 90 project, but leaving on Tuesday was a little trickier than getting there.
The McLean Contracting Company, which supplied the heavy equipment used to remove the damaged section of the Route 90 bridge, took the crane barge out through the Route 50 draw span Tuesday morning, although the trip took a little longer and presented a few more challenges than anticipated.
“We were planning to go through around 6:30 a.m., but the state moved the time back to 9 a.m. because of something going on with the bridge,” said McLean tugboat captain Ted Ostrowski, who helped maneuver the barge through the gap. “We laid up on the bulkhead on the north side of the bridge until we got the go-ahead.”
Once the barge was cleared to attempt its passage through the span, there were more complications to deal with, according to Ostrowski. The massive crane barge had to be lined up perfectly with the opening in the bridge because there were only a few inches to spare on either side.
“We had to deal with 15 to 20 knot winds from behind us, which didn’t make it any easier,” he said. “We also had to wait for the tide to be just right. We had to take it through there on an incoming tide. It’s important to have the tide coming at you, because you can hold it right there and wait for your opportunity. It’s much more difficult if the tide is moving behind you because you have less control.”
With the tide conditions favorable, the crane barge made its approach to the drawbridge, but there were more complications. At nearly the last minute, the huge crane had to be turned around 180 degrees because of concern about the clearance for the bridge.
“The drawbridge operator laid on his collision horn for what seemed like a few minutes as we approached,” said Ostrowski. “I think he got a little nervous and thought we were going to run into the bridge. I think he was sweating up there, but we went through with no more problems.”
The operation closed the Route 50 Bridge for about 45 minutes on Tuesday. Once the barge was safely through the draw span, it traveled through the Inlet and into the open ocean where is started its return trip to Wilmington.