Night work approved for Route 26 project

Construction of the Route 26 Mainline Project won’t begin for at least another year, but residents and business people in the area have made it clear they want the project to conclude as quickly as possible.

DelDOT announced in an email on Monday, Nov. 19, that residents had expressed overwhelming support for construction taking place during the nighttime hours.

Out of 194 “yes-or-no” surveys sent via certified mail to locals living on Route 26, only nine responses opposed night work. A total of 68 people responded “yes” to night work, and 117 people did not reply, which also counts as approval by DelDOT’s tally methods.

There was no common demographic among the “no’s,” according to DelDOT project manager Tom Banez.

“They were spread throughout the project limits. I would say randomly,” said Banez. “Primarily the no’s were just from private residences versus business owners.”

People could write comments but were not required to do anything more than check a box on the survey, which was due Nov. 15.

Generally, Banez said, business owners may prefer night work to bring a faster conclusion to the project. Residents may oppose the nighttime noise and lights.

State law requires DelDOT to survey residents immediately adjacent to the project limits, asking if they approve of night work. A majority of votes was required to move forward, and not responding is considered approval.

“We’ve met the requirement for night work,” said Banez. “It will probably reduce the time in construction. It’s hard to say how much. … The survey said, without night work, the project could possibly take five years to build. It could be three with night work.”

All schedules depend on weather. However, the entire four-mile span will not be a construction zone for four years. Roadwork is being split into four sections in the project area, which runs between the Assawoman Canal and Clarksville.

Century Engineering of Baltimore County, Md., is designing the project. Delaware will seek construction company bids in spring of 2013, discussing official schedules later. Construction could begin in fall of 2013.

Since summer increases traffic by 67 percent, DelDOT wants to finish work fast, even working on different sections of road at the same time. If night work is allowed, the project could finish as early as spring of 2016. If not, roadwork could extend until fall of 2017.

During peak summer season (May 16 to Sept. 30), roadwork will only occur if two lanes can remain open. Banez said there will be brief periods of one-lane traffic, but these will be minimized, and roads may be temporarily widened to allow traffic flow. Lane restrictions are allowed during daytime, and no roadwork is allowed weekends, from Friday to Monday.

During off-peak seasons (Oct. 1 to May 15), lane restrictions are allowed seven days per week.

Urgency of completing the project has outweighed potential concerns about nighttime work on prior road projects in the area. “The phone calls stopped” to state Rep. Gerald Hocker’s office in 2011 when night work began on Route 54, which was not a popular project when summertime day work disrupted access to businesses.

In a Nov. 2 email to the mainline project’s working group, Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin recalled problems from the Route 26 expansion in Bethany Beach in 2001.

“The work then created a nightmare for area travel, and many businesses along the Route 26 corridor suffered greatly. Towards the end of the project, folks were begging DelDOT to work around-the-clock, in order to complete the work as rapidly as possible,” McLaughlin wrote.

“Based on my personal experience of the Bethany Beach expansion, I wholeheartedly support and encourage around-the-clock work in order to expedite the construction. Delays and disruptions are unavoidable, and the quicker the project can be completed the better.”

In July, the Town of Ocean View amended town code to allow night work. The law prohibiting construction on Sundays and on weeknights between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. no longer applies to public works projects relating to the construction, repair or maintenance of roads, water and sewer infrastructure, or stormwater management and control.

“I think they realized doing night work on this project was going to be very important for it to succeed and get done in a reasonable amount time,” Banez said.

Utility companies are currently preparing for the project by moving utility poles out of the roadways, in preparation for the road widening near Millville Town Center and Clarksville. Verizon began its work in November, and Delmarva Power is expected to begin Dec. 3, after some Hurricane Sandy-related delays. Currently, the real estate acquisition process is ongoing. Banez said he hopes DelDOT will finish acquiring land by February and finalize plans for the construction soon thereafter.