Last weekend Karen Fritz, general manager at Smitty McGee’s, decided to petition the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) to have the road construction on Route 54 completed by the start of Memorial Day.
“I started the petition because it annoys me that this isn’t finished yet,” said Fritz of her frustration with the project. “DelDOT said it was scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012. Well, that’s what happened last year, and it ruined the summer. I’ve just had enough.”
Fritz began distributing the petition on April 6, and as of Tuesday, April 10, through the Web site iPetition and speaking with people at Smitty McGee’s, she’s collected more than 500 signatures. She also distributed petitions to be signed at other businesses in Fenwick Island and Ocean City, Md., and noted that everyone she’s spoken to has been willing to sign.
“Normally, when I speak to the customers at Smitty McGee’s or wherever I’ve taken the petition, they’re almost grabbing the pencil out of my hands, because they can’t wait to sign.”
Fritz said she plans to collect all the signatures she can by April 17, to scan and send to DelDOT officials before a public meeting with DelDOT is held at Smitty McGee’s on April 18, at 10 a.m.
“We want to get DelDOT’s attention so that they know how serious the problem is and to let them know there are a lot of people,” she said. “I wanted to get the petition started so that people know that there’s a petition and they know that there’s a public meeting and this is their chance to speak out.”
She added that she hopes many attend Wednesday’s meeting to have their voices heard and that she believes there is strength in numbers.
“They’re not down here. They don’t know,” she said of DelDOT officials.
Last year, business owners voiced their concerns to DelDOT when their businesses were being adversely affected financially by the construction.
“It would take an hour to get from the beginning of construction, which is right in front of Smitty McGee’s, to Harris Teeter, which is two miles, maybe, down the road. The customers, once they did that, would not come back. Nobody wanted to sit in the traffic.
“The tourists coming in, they heard how bad Route 54 was, so they wouldn’t even come down Route 54 and take a chance getting stuck in all the traffic on their vacation,” she added.”
Fritz said that last summer’s poor business cannot be repeated – otherwise some businesses simply won’t be able to survive.
“That’s why I started the petition,” she said. “If somebody doesn’t do something about it, it will continue like it did last year and we’ll lose another summer. Some of these businesses on Route 54 barely made it last year. They will be gone.
“We can’t have that road impact the businesses again this summer. It needs to be completed by Memorial Day — they can work around the clock, they can work nights. They have four extra hours of daylight that they’re not even utilizing.”
Fritz added that she travels Route 54 constantly for work and does not believe that there are enough workers for the job or that the construction workers on the job are working as hard as they could be.
“At most I’ve counted 35 working. Even if they have 35 people working all the time, they’re not going to get that road finished,” she said. “I take a video whenever I ride down that road and I count how many people are in worker uniforms and how many people are actually working, doing something. Many times there one person in a hole digging, and three people leaning on shovels around the hole, watching the guy dig.”
With the progress of construction, Fritz said she doesn’t understand why areas of the roadway have yet to be completed.
“I don’t understand why they can’t at least finish a portion of the road so that it’s not the whole road being affected anymore. They could certainly pour the concrete; they could certainly fix the curbs,” Fritz said. “But they’re doing nothing. It’s almost as if they’re getting the whole entire road ready and then they’re going to come back and concrete as one great big project and then blacktop as another big project.”
Fritz said she hopes many people attend the April 18 meeting, and that construction will be fully completed by this coming Memorial Day.
“It should never look like there was ever any construction there, so that the visitors to Ocean City and Fenwick and all of our resort beaches can easily access that road.”