Mispillion Bridge opens to vehicle traffic

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Mispillion River Drawbridge is now operational for both vehicles and boat traffic (Photo courtesy of DelDOT)

After construction vehicles struck the upper portion of the historic bridge on two separate occasions almost exactly one year apart, the Mispillion River drawbridge opened to both vehicle and maritime traffic on Friday, August 11. The bridge underwent testing earlier in the week before DelDOT announced the repairs were complete.

In December 2021, an oversized construction vehicle damaged the top portion of the bridge which caused the bridge to remain closed to boat traffic. Initially, DelDOT did not plan to repair the bridge until a lawsuit was filed by a group of boat owners whose fishing vessels were trapped on the Milford side of the bridge. Then, in December 2022, another construction vehicle damaged the bridge again.

Although the lawsuit filed by the watermen along with Joan and Sudler Lofland, who own the Vineyard Shipyard, an historic property located along the Riverwalk in downtown Milford, has not gone to trial and is still active, DelDOT closed the bridge on February 6 to begin repairs. Initially, the bridge was scheduled to reopen in April, but as crews began working on the mechanisms, additional repairs were necessary, causing delays in the bridge reopening.

Announcement of the reopening was met with cheers from locals who have missed using Rehoboth Boulevard to access town, especially when other roads throughout town are undergoing construction.

“Not to mention every other road in town is tore up all the way to the sidewalk,” Meg Marie posted on social media. “The highway is a mess and beach traffic is everywhere Thursday through Sunday. Opening the bridge would help the flow a lot.”

Others questioned whether the bridge needed to be operational since there are very few boats who travel into the section of the river along the Riverwalk.

“I have never seen the bridge actually up ever in my life,” Steve Gott commented. “Is there that much traffic flowing through the river? I see potential for a lot of boat traffic one day. I remember as a kid the marina there off Route 1 bustling with boats heading to the bay. Is there anyone interested in reviving this? Frederica has a brewery soon to be open and there is direct access to the Murderkill right behind it. An opportunity maybe to revive boat traffic from the bay?”

There is a federal law which requires navigable waters to remain navigable if they meet certain criteria. This could mean that the drawbridge must remain operable since the small section of the Mispillion River meets those criteria, even though fewer boats use that section than did in the past. The criteria include that the water was used or was able to be used as a highway for commerce, that commerce was possible under the natural conditions of the water and that commerce was or could have been conducted in customary modes of travel on water. Since Milford had a significant shipbuilding industry in the past, and because the Vineyard Shipyard is still operational, providing boat repairs and storage, this qualified that section of the river as “navigable.”

Today, boats may pass under the drawbridge, although any boat that requires the bridge to be raised must notify DelDOT Traffic Management Center 24 hours in advance by calling 302-659-4600.

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