DelDOT assembling working group for Route 26 project

Construction on Route 26 is unlikely to begin until spring of 2013 at the earliest, but DelDOT is already starting public outreach. Select community members along Atlantic Avenue have received invitations to join the Delaware Department of Transportation SR 26 Working Group.

The SR 26 Mainline Improvement Project, which will widen roads and add center turn lanes, is not the first road project to feature a community group. Yet, it differs from the recent Indian River Inlet Bridge construction advisory group, which was open to the public.

“State Route 26 is so populous, we couldn’t just hold an open forum,” said Tina Shockley, DelDOT legislative liaison. “We chose to choose a good cross-section of key businesses, homeowner associations, those types of people who would be most impacted.”

Monthly meetings will review construction progress, while aiming to address relevant, widespread citizen concerns. Representatives can bring questions and concerns to DelDOT and talk to the builders one-on-one. Then, they can share news and information with their communities.

“To be able to do that successfully, you need a small nucleus of a group,” said Bob King, DelDOT community relations officer. “Sometimes the representatives of the groups … assess the general concern of that type of constituency.”

Ideally, government officials, civic organizations, emergency personnel and residential and commercial groups would be represented. Many people were invited, but the most effective group will likely dwindle to between 12 and 20 members, King said.

“It gives a new perspective, and it’s good outreach. It’s the best way to communicate,” said King, who has served on several working groups.

DelDOT often sends out press releases, but sometimes word-of-mouth travels faster. Plus, in a cohesive group, members can enjoy direct conversation and develop a rapport, compared to a large public workshop, officials said.

The working group also helps DelDOT gather input from the community. People can offer suggestions to issues DelDOT encounters during the project. During Indian River Inlet Bridge CAG meetings, DelDOT’s Craig Stevens often said public input helped solve a lot of problems.

“Quite often, the engineers can’t see the forest through the trees,” said King, explaining the benefit of an outsider’s perspective.

The first meeting of the Route 26 group will be scheduled for late summer. Right now, DelDOT is awaiting responses from the invited parties.