My take – Dolphins’ (not the sea mammals) will protect the Delaware Memorial Bridge

Delaware River and Bay Authority photo

A January 2023 press release from the Delaware River and Bay Authority did not get a whole lot of attention at the time.

The DRBA announced it had obtained federal funding for dolphin cells. The $22 million in funding from the feds cleared the way for the more than $90 million project, which is now slated for completion in 2025.

The project had been in the works for years and had its share of political challenges. After all, no one wanted to pay more to cross a bridge. Also, governors of the two states had to sign off on higher tolls needed to pay for the cells and other projects, and there was some resistance on the New Jersey side.

The price tag might have seemed extravagant at the time, but commissioners and staff had their reasons for putting the project in a hefty capital budget.

River and Bay Authority engineers had been worried after a late 1960s collision in which a small tanker hit a barrier around the bridge supports. Since then, cargo ships have grown larger.


The DRBA’s decision has earned praise in government and maritime circles after a container ship tragically lost propulsion and took out the Francis Scott Key Bridge, claiming several lives and closing the busy harbor. In light of the recent tragedy, it isn’t hard to picture a massive ship heading downriver, losing propulsion, and striking one of the supports.

Would dolphin cells or a similar system have saved the Key Bridge?

It’s hard to say. As a recent Maritime Executive editorial highlighting the actions in Maryland and the DRBA noted, the channel under the Key Bridge is narrow and would have become even more crowded and might have added to navigation hazards.

At the same time, it’s hard to understand why Maryland’s transportation establishment did not take the threat more seriously. As the Maritime Executive piece noted, the Sunshine Skyway collision collapse was a more recent reminder of the potential for a catastrophe.

Whatever the case, DBRA staff and commissioners deserve the accolades they receive, although everyone wishes the recognition was not the result of a tragedy that took lives and will temporarily leave many jobless.

It’s also a reminder that work on improving and strengthening an aging and neglected infrastructure is far from done.

Meanwhile, Delaware Online reported today that the top regional official for Wilmington port operator Enstructure reported a doubling of business as shippers cope with the Baltimore shutdown. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.