Delaware’s new Charles W. Cullen Bridge at the Indian River Inlet is an engineering wonder designed for long-term durability, structural integrity, sustainability and aesthetics.

Since the inlet was first dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1928, engineers have struggled to design and construct a bridge capable of withstanding the relentless power and violent forces of sea, wind and sand found along this section of coastline. Over 80 years, five bridges were constructed, and none were able to withstand the harsh environs. By 2008, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) sought a permanent solution and awarded a $150-million design/build contract to the team of AECOM and Skanska. DelDOT stipulated the new bridge must have a 100-year service life, no piers in the water and a minimum clear span of 900 feet. The design/build team proposed a cable-stayed bridge with a context-sensitive design as the most effective and economical solution.

With four 248-foot tall pylons supporting a 950-foot long main span and two flanking 400-foot long side spans, the superstructure incorporates an impressive 106-foot wide, six-foot deep concrete deck. Traffic flow and safety are markedly improved now, with four 12-foot travel lanes, 10-foot outside shoulders, 4-foot inside shoulders and a 12-foot wide sidewalk and bike path.

The bridge’s context-sensitive aesthetics evoke a nautical theme, with semi-harped cable stays and soaring pylons replicating the sails and masts of tall ships. Buy-in was achieved by allowing the public to vote on the blue color of the stays, the architectural tops of the towers and the porthole-shaped lighting fixtures lining the bridge’s sidewalk. Residents and vacationers have embraced the distinctive design, expressing appreciation for its simple lines and elegant shape, panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and minimal impact on the pristine coastal environment.

The engineering team learned from the lessons of the inlet’s five previous bridges to create a structure built to last. Mother Nature has already put this bridge to the test, with two devastating hurricanes, an epic nor’easter and an historic earthquake. But the bridge was designed to withstand exactly this type of loading, and post-event inspections have shown no signs of damage. This new signature bridge – exemplifying balance, harmony, ingenuity and beauty – opened for traffic in January 2012.

The Charles W. Cullen Bridge has received the following honors:

  • American Road & Transportation Builders Association Transportation Development Foundation Globe Award, 2014
  • American Council of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Awards, National Recognition Award, 2013
  • American Council of Engineering Companies, Delaware Chapter, Grand Conceptor Award, 2013
  • American Segmental Bridge Institute, Bridge Award of Excellence, 2013
  • Associated General Contractors of America Alliant Build America Awards, Best Design-Build Highway Transportation Project, 2013
  • American Society of Civil Engineers, Delaware Chapter, Outstanding Large Project of the Year, 2012