After just one month with two localized Route 26 road closures, business owners are really feeling the pressure. As their small businesses suffer from being located on temporary dead-ends, they voiced their concerns at a Feb. 10 Construction Advisory Group meeting, saying they feel the contractor doesn’t feel their sense of urgency.
The area’s primary east-west route, Route 26 is completely closed at two small bridges near Millville Town Hall and Lord Baltimore Elementary School, from Jan. 5 to March 30, as part of a 2.5-year project to expand a 4-mile stretch of Route 26. That requires motorists to take a detour through Millville and/or Ocean View, which takes them away from businesses they might normally have passed on a regular basis.
“I have a concern about a lack of urgency on George & Lynch’s part,” said the eponymous owner of the Ellen Rice Gallery.
But it’s no small task to simultaneously two block two streams, replace underground box culverts and get out in 90 days, said Chief Engineer Jill Frey of Century Engineering.
“They may not be running around like crazy people. … They are working awfully hard,” Frey said of contractors George & Lynch (G&L). “At this point, we are on-point to get that done in this timeframe.”
“We are losing a lot of business,” said Maria Fraser of Café on 26, asking why more construction isn’t being done while the roads are quiet.
“We do have other operations,” said Mike Delp of G&L. “We have three pipe crews working right now … in the rain.”
“We were honest with you. We said we would not be in front of your business just once,” said Frey. “We have 4 miles of roadway. We have one entrance every 100 feet on average. … You can’t close the road the entire time.
“We put a lot of restrictions on George & Lynch,” Frey continued. “For this amount of work, the 900-calendar-day contract is very fast,” she said of the full length of the project which began last year. While it looks very haphazard, they are finding every nook and cranny to work on that regulations will allow. … It may not seem like the most efficient work to you.”
Fraser asked if summertime work could be eliminated, so businesses could still thrive.
But summer is the best time for building, and losing those months would extend the end-date by another 1.5 years, project officials said.
“I just can’t fathom that,” Fraser said.
“It’s true,” said DelDOT’s Tom Banez. He noted that it took 1.5 years to expand a 1-mile stretch from Assawoman Canal to Route 1, so this 4-mile project is moving at double-time.
“It’s difficult for us to respond to ‘Why can’t you get things done faster? But I don’t want you to work during the summer.’ … It’s not realistic,” Banez added.
“Don’t kill our summers,” Fraser pleaded.
Many compromises have been made, Frey and Ken Cimino said. Night work hours were even delayed on Woodland Avenue until after 9 p.m., to allow for Fraser’s last dinner seating at the café. She agreed.
At business owners’ request, signs have been added, rearranged and clarified at the detours and barricades.
“We are doing what we can and at the same time maintain safety in the work zones,” Cimino said. “We have made many changes. We answer everything,”
Rice also asked about seeing workers leave early on Fridays. George & Lynch officials said those people have worked 40 hours.
“I bid the job DelDOT put out. As a business owner, we’re here to make money,” said Delp.
George & Lynch spent $200,000 in overtime (from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014) to be ready to build the culverts on time, said Executive Vice President Chris Baker.
Despite losing eight days in January to weather, they worked early overtime, and “We feel we’re at a point now where we will complete it within 90 days,” Baker said. “I don’t feel compelled to spend another $200,000 to finish [a few days early].”
However, the penalties for going past the March 30 culvert deadline hang heavy over the contractor. He said too much overtime can also tire the crews, so they work 40 hours.
“We’re not there to inconvenience you,” said Baker, who needs some employees on the company’s other projects.
“We can’t force a construction company to make this their only project,” Banez said.
“Maybe you can sacrifice for the public good,” said Duane Whitman.
“At the end of the day, it is a business decision,” Baker said.
“If I was depending solely on the income [from the gallery], I would be out of business,” said Rice. She did compliment Cimino’s responsiveness, and she thanked Publisher Susan Lyons and the Coastal Point for publishing ads that encourage drivers to visit businesses in the closure areas.
In other news from the Route 26 project:
• Ken Cimino personally responds to all questions and complaints regarding Route 26 construction. People can contact him at (302) 616-2621 or Kenneth.Cimino@aecom.com.
• Cimino emphasized that the Route 26 construction work wasn’t involved in a massive Mediacom internet and cable outage that occurred Thursday, Feb. 5. He said it happened when a contracted hauler delivered sand to a business in Millville but neglected to lower the truck bed before driving under utility lines.
• During construction, many traffic signals are on fixed timers, rather than automatic sensors, which means motorists may way longer than usual for a green light. Some of the time loops have been adjusted, however. The temporary signals at Cedar Drive and Windmill Road are programmed to adjust their timing automatically as traffic increases.
• Pipes are still being laid this winter, so motorists should expect lane closures and flagging operations. In March, milling and paving will begin in areas with new curbing.
• DelDOT project updates can be found online at www.deldot.gov/information/projects/sr26/index.shtml.
• Delaware traffic updates can be found in real time through DelDOT Transportation Management Center’s blog, Twitter, Facebook or mobile app. Radio alerts are broadcasted on 1380 AM.
Drivers are being encouraged to call the 24-hour TMC hotline at (302) 659-4600 (or dial #77 on Delaware cell phones) if they see a problem such as excessive queuing, damaged signals or incorrect flashing signs.
Public meetings of the Construction Advisory Group (CAG) are held every other month. The next meeting is Tuesday, April 14, at 10 a.m. at Bethany Beach Town Hall.