90 Bridge Concrete Could Become Reef

OCEAN CITY – The bad news is the Route 90 Bridge was closed yesterday for an estimated two months while contractors remove an 85-section of the span deemed unsafe by corrosion, but the good news is large sections of the damaged bridge could find a new home as part of the resort area’s growing artificial reef system.

Yesterday, weather permitting, private contractors were supposed to start dismantling the Route 90 bridge at its highest point over the Isle of Wight Bay in preparation for the two-month project to replace the corroded section. If it’s true one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then the damaged section, or sections, could become valuable additions to the artificial reef sites either somewhere in the coastal bays or, more likely, at any one of the existing artificial reef sites off the resort’s coast.

What started simply as a “what if” scenario started to get some legs this week as local and state artificial reef officials and conservation groups starting exploring the possibilities. Obviously, there are major logistical issues to work through, such as the size and condition of the pieces, the required permits, transporting the tons of material to the designated sites, and, of course, the cost of transporting the material, but it appears there is a will to at least make the effort.

Maryland Coastal Bays Program Science Coordinator Dr. Roman Jesien this week began making calls and sending emails to the appropriate public and private entities involved in the bridge project, including the contractor responsible for removing the old section and replacing it. At first glance, it appears a site in the coastal bays would be a good spot to deploy the material, but there are few permitted artificial reef sites in the bays and getting approval for a new one could be difficult given the rather narrow window for the project.

“We’re certainly interested, but I’m sure it will take a while to work through the logistics and maybe even the permitting process,” said Jesien. “We’re thinking something in the bays, but I don’t know if that’s feasible. There would probably be some tough permitting issues to deal with.”

Nonetheless, there are dozens of permitted and approved artificial reef sites on the Atlantic side of the resort and depositing the tons of concrete and steel removed from the Route 90 bridge at one of them could be practical.

“I don’t know of any sites on the bay that would be appropriate for this material,” said Jesien. “At the very least, I think we might be able to find a way to get this material to some of the inshore reef sites on the Atlantic side.”

The state has also taken an interest in utilizing the old material removed from the bridge at artificial reef sites in and around the resort area. Maryland Artificial Reef Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz said this week finding a way to deploy the material at a site in the bays is a long shot, but there is a real possibility it could end up in the ocean.

“It looks like there is no way to get a permit approved in time in the coastal bays,” he said. “I just don’t see it happening. I think our best plan is to get it out to one of the ocean sites near shore.”

Zlokovitz said any of the existing reef sites off the coast could be an appropriate destination.

“At this point, we’re leaning heavily toward barging it out to one of the inshore reefs, like the Purnell Reef, for example,” he said. “If we can figure out a way to get it out there, any of those inshore sites would be perfect.”

While there is clearly an interest in salvaging the old section of bridge, there are obvious roadblocks to moving the massive pieces of concrete and steel. According to Joe Hoffman, contract manager for McLean Contracting, one of two private contractors on the project, a large crane will be mobilized to remove the old bridge in five pieces. The plan is to leave the old bridge sections on a material barge in Ocean City until the end of the project.

Hoffman said the state is requesting a few days to study the corrosion on the removed pieces, after which the current plan calls for them to be taken to Baltimore to be pulverized for disposal.

The large crane used to remove the pieces will be taken away after the new girders are in place and likely would not be around when it’s time to deploy the material on the reef sites. However, the crane will be returned to Wilmington when it’s no longer needed, and it could be used to deposit the material on the ocean reef sites on the way if timing issues can be worked out. According to Hoffman, the large crane could be moved out of the area by the end of October.

“We’re going to talk to one of our engineering consultants that worked on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project to find out what we’re looking at from a demolition and construction standpoint,” he said. “We’re not sure at this point what we’re looking at, whether is going to be hundreds of little pieces or a couple of big slabs.”

Of course, environmental and safety issues would supersede any and all logistical issues.

“We have to make sure it’s clean,” he said. “If it’s just concrete, that’s perfect. If there is asphalt on it, that would have to be milled off. If there is rebar throughout the concrete, that’s fine, but if there are protruding pieces of rebar, they would have to be torched off. We don’t want to have big, jagged pieces of rebar sticking out of these reef sites.”