Route 26 will close in two locations for construction, starting Monday, Jan. 5. The three-month closure is scheduled to end March 30.
Two bridge culverts must be replaced where Route 26 crosses water, just east of Millville Town Hall and just east of Lord Baltimore Elementary School.
“You’ll be able to drive the whole length of Route 26. … You just won’t be able to drive where the bridge is,” said Ken Cimino, project manager for AECOM.
This is part of the Route 26 Mainline project to widen the road, adding a center turn lane for 4.5 miles, as well as shoulders and sidewalk. (Sewer systems are also being expanded simultaneously, but under the auspices of Sussex County, not under the direction of Delaware Department of Transportation.)
“Box culverts are structures that carry water underneath the roadway,” Cimino explained to members of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce in December.
Vehicles will be able to access all of Route 26 during the closure, but with some extra driving.
Detours for drivers and pedestrians
Several years ago, the “Detour Routes” project improved the back roads to prepare for traffic impacted by the 2.5-year Mainline project.
The official detour route westbound leads from Central Avenue (east of the detour, by Fulton Bank) to Cedar Drive (inside the detour, by Giant) or Windmill Road (west of the detour, by Millville Town Hall).
However, no one can prevent people from using other local roads.
Eastbound drivers hoping to skip construction completely, to reach Bethany Beach and Route 1 (Coastal Highway), can detour on DelDOT-improved roads: Burbage Road, Windmill Road, Central Avenue, Beaver Dam (via Parker House Road) and Muddy Neck Road.
Pedestrians will get a temporary bridge crossing near Lord Baltimore. But in Millville, pedestrians will be detoured around Windmill Road and Dukes Drive to Route 26.
Businesses are open
Although barricades will block Route 26 at the detours, people are allowed to continue straight down the road to access nearby homes or businesses.
“You simply make sure there’s no one coming [then drive around the barricade]. You can continue down Route 26,” Cimino said. “Cars will be able to get to your business.”
New stoplights on Central
To manage the detour traffic, DelDOT has installed two temporary traffic signals on Central Avenue, at the intersections of Cedar Drive and Windmill Drive. The temporary signals will control traffic during the three-month detour. Loop detectors and other controls will help ensure traffic keeps moving swiftly.
To get people acclimated to the signals, they will flash for 72 hours, starting this weekend, before the road closure.
“When we actually close the road down, at midnight, they’ll go full color,” Cimino said.
Additionally, two stop signs will be temporarily removed from Central Avenue at the Woodland Avenue intersection.
The weather vs. the schedule
Contractor George & Lynch is limited to those 85 days between Jan. 5 and March 30 for the closure. If it exceeds that deadline, a penalty is attached, unless the delay is weather-related and cannot be helped.
Most materials are pre-cast, so freezing weathers shouldn’t have an impact. However, there are a few concrete pours that will require favorable weather.
“There are no guarantees on anything. It is DelDOT’s intent and the contractor’s intent to be done March 30th,” Cimino said.
“They know what kind of work commitment they have,” said state Rep. Ron Gray, adding that he had gotten the impression that G&L will do what is needed, including working seven days per week.
“With good weather and good luck, hopefully, we’ll get it done sooner,” said Cimino.
Closing the roadway is a major milestone for the project. Despite losing 32 days of construction to weather in early 2014, the major intersections were completed, allowing culvert work to occur this winter.
The construction still has an anticipated end date of late July 2016. George & Lynch has more than a year to make up for any lost time. Otherwise, it’s a $12,000 daily penalty, Cimino said.
“We’re making really good progress. We’re moving along,” Cimino said. “The day we’re closing the road will be one year” from the very beginning of construction.
Next summer will resemble last summer, he said, as roadwork will continue, although lane closures will only be permitted on weeknights.
Winter plowing and other issues
“We’re responsible for snow removal. George & Lynch will plow mainline 26 inches for two inches of snow or more, Cimino said. “I’ll be on-site every storm, directing the contractor’s resources.”
DelDOT usually plows primary roads, then secondary streets later. However, the official detour route is now considered the primary route, so DelDOT will focus on Central Avenue, Cedar Drive and Windmill Road too.
As public outreach coordinator, Cimino personally responds to all questions and complaints regarding Route 26 construction. Residents and businesses can contact him at (302) 616-2621 or Kenneth.Cimino@aecom.com.
“If we don’t know, we can’t fix it,” he said. “I try to be very forthcoming.”
Some businesses already call him regularly if they see something they believe is unsafe or inappropriate. That includes equipment parking where it shouldn’t or heavy machinery travelling down the road unescorted.
“They’re supposed to adhere to all motor-safety laws,” Cimino said of the work crews, although there is some question as to what is allowed, since the machines are working in multiple locations.
As of mid-December, he said, no collisions have been caused by contractor equipment.