Bethany Beach businesses open despite construction

Although there seems to be a lot of construction orange blazing on the streets, downtown Bethany Beach is open for business.

The town is currently undergoing a Streetscape project that has left much of Garfield Parkway, and some neighboring streets, impassible. However, those roadways should be completely accessible by May 24, according to Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) officials.

This is the second phase of the town’s Streetscape improvements project, which is set to offer sidewalk and curb improvements, ADA-standard upgrades to existing curb ramps, traffic-calming elements and new lighting and parking configurations.

“We have a drop-dead date of May 23, to either be finished or to pull off the site,” said Jeff Niezgoda, program manager for DelDOT’s transportation program. “The weather has not worked to our advantage this year. During this winter, we’ve had a lot of time where we’ve been shut down.”

The project was anticipated to start in September 2013; however, due to delays, construction did not begin until Dec. 2.

“We’ve had a lot of rain days… There were a lot of things are working against us. But regardless of whether the project is done, May 23 is the day we have to be out of the area. We were scheduled to start in October but encountered some unanticipated safety concerns that we had to address with redesign.

“There were some decorative light posts that the Town had installed as part of a project prior to this one,” Neizgoda explained. “When we did some the work we needed to do, it would have exposed those large light poles to oncoming traffic, without any safety barrier. So we had to redesign some temporary safety measures before we could formally start the project.”

Progress on the project has been further hampered by the cold, wet winter.

“There could be situations during the winter months. The weather might be good, but the temperatures might not be working to our advantage,” Neizgoda said. “So you couldn’t pour concrete — because it’s temperature-sensitive. Of course, the asphalt plants close down during the winter months and didn’t open back up until the winter was over.”

Neizgoda said the Town is now going to the local business community to find out if there is any interest in continuing the work on the project after the May 23 deadline.

“If the desire is to not, we’ll remove ourselves from the site and come back after the season is over. We started back up in November this year,” he said.

Bethany Beach Books owner Jackie Inman, who is a member of the Bethany Beach Business Forum, said she had not been asked about a possible extension but would prefer construction stop until the fall.

“From a business owner’s perspective, who has been open year-round and affected by it daily, I would rather them pick up the project at a later date, considering it has been a rougher winter. I could definitely use my spring to not have all the construction in front of me.”

Neizgoda said that project progress meetings are being held once a month at town hall, with the contractor, A-Del DelDOT inspection forces, Bethany’s public works director and Town Manager Cliff Graviet.

“They’ve been very much involved in this process throughout,” he said. “Then they have updated their website with a lot of information about the project.”

Neizgoda said that, prior to the start of construction, public workshops were held to solicit the public’s input.

“When we were in the design phasing, we had two, if not three, public workshops where all of the local business community, as well as residents of the surrounding area, were invited to discuss, comment, express their concerns on the project,” he said. “It’s a project that’s in their back yard.

“From a business prospective,” he added, “the project’s intent is not only to provide a safer place for pedestrians to use but to potentially revitalize it from an economic standpoint.”

With the potential delay of completion for the project, extra crews and shifts have been added. Construction may take place Mondays through Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with some Sundays used as weather make-up days when necessary.

“I know that DelDOT, A-Del and the Town have been working very closely to finish this project as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” said Inman. “I was extremely thrilled that they added on the extra crews and added on the extra hours, with all the great intentions of finishing on May 23. But, realistically, it seems they may not be able to do the horseshoe loop by that date.”

Neizgoda said that, following the completion of the project, the State will dedicate the roadway to the Town in term of maintenance and operations.

“The State will continue to maintain and own the underlying rights to the roadway, but the Town itself will take over the maintenance and operations of the corridor,” he explained.

“There are some processes that we were doing under the construction phasing that were unique to this one particular location or area. In order for us to do it, it goes outside of our normal practice of maintenance and operation. So the Town, through a project agreement, had to agree to maintain a lot of the facilities that were constructed as a part of the project, prior to construction occurring.”

The project details that will lead to the dedication include benches, trash receptacles and the above-ground planter boxes in which trees will be planted.

“Those are the types of things the department isn’t in the position of maintaining. They’re more amenities that the Town requested and are a part of the overall streetscape aspect that are very important when it comes to the visual component.”

Neizgoda said that, if future work is done to the roadway, the Town will have to work with DelDOT throughout the construction process.

“Anytime a municipality is working within a State right-of-way, there’s a process that they need to apply for a permit. The permit is based on the fact that they have the proper MOT (Ministry of Transport),” he explained. “A lot of times, down in the beach areas, it’s seasonal. We don’t want people working out on Route 1 during the summer months when you’re going to back up traffic for months.”

As for the upcoming summer season, sans construction, Inman said she and all of the businesses in town are excited.

“I think the season is going to be great. I think it has been such a cold winter that people are ready and itching to come to the beach — to enjoy our beautiful Delaware beaches our wonderful family-friendly Quiet Resorts,” she said. “I can speak for a lot of business owners when I say, we’re really, really excited for a great season.”