The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) announced this week that, due to concerns voiced by many local businesses and residents, as well as state Sen. George Bunting, daytime construction activities for the Route 54 project will cease from now through Labor Day.
“Some of our public relations and our project staff went down and met with key business owners, and we essentially listened to their complaints, conditions, things that they were talking about being impactful to their business,” explained DelDOT Community Relations Officer Tina Shockley. “We worked together to find a way to try to adjust the project so the project still moves forward and it would lessen the economic impact to the businesses.”
Dawn McGee, owner of Smitty McGee’s on Route 54 west of Fenwick Island helped organize the meeting with DelDOT after having her restaurant adversely affected financially by the construction.
“When it first started, we were trying to be patient and do the right thing. And, within three weeks, at the height of the season, we realized that we were not going to have a season. We pretty much lost business… No one was coming up 54,” she explained.
“So I called George [Bunting]. He got all the guys from the State of Delaware, and they allowed me to have eight people – all different types of businesses – come into the restaurant last Wednesday morning. The State people came down, and they let us all vent, and then we tried to work together for a solution where both sides would be impacted as little as possible.”
McGee said that she isn’t the only business owner who has been affected by the construction.
“It wasn’t just me. It was the entire Route 54 corridor. I was damaged so bad that I had to lay off four employees in July, which I’ve never had to do before. I’ve never laid off an employee before, let alone in July. And, right now, I’m going to be struggling for the rest of the year to get through the winter so that we can regroup next summer.
“I had customers tell me they were switching pharmacies because they didn’t want to ride out to get their prescriptions,” McGee noted. “I had customers tell me they weren’t going to Harris Teeter because they didn’t want to ride through the traffic.”
Shockley said that changing the schedule of construction is sure to cost the State money, but that the financial impact it was having on the businesses was of greater concern.
“There probably will be a cost associated with it, but in talking with the business owners and things like that, and the economic impact to this area during the summertime, it’s not any comparison. It’s not a huge cost when you compare it to the loss of the economic income to the state and to the resort area.”
She noted that, in order for the project to be finished for the projected spring 2012 completion date, construction had to happen during one summer season.
“We have an obligation to the contractor and to the public to provide, to put this new road in. We want to continue the project. So that’s the best option for DelDOT. And, also, it lessened the impact to the businesses, because people are able to get by their businesses and they’re not impacted by that road construction.”
Shockley added that DelDOT had not yet firmed up details with the road contractor as to how they will ensure the road improvements will be completed on time.
During the remaining seven-week time period for the summer’s construction, the project’s contractor will perform construction only during nighttime hours, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Monday nights through Friday mornings.
No roadway work will be performed at any time on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.
There will be construction-related noises during the evening hours, but Shockley stated that the construction crew would make every attempt to make the noise minimal.
“Essentially, in the past, we’ve done things like the contractor will work a double crew or there’ll be a double shift or they’ll work six or seven days a week, or there are certain things they can do to kind of make up for any time that might be lost.”
The businesses owners on Route 54 are hoping that the change in schedule will encourage residents and visitors to continue their patronage.
“We’re struggling, and we need every customer that we can possibly get out there,” said McGee. “That’s everybody. That’s the furniture stores, the car wash. I just want to get everything back to normal so that we can all survive again. I’m going to make the best of what we have left. It’s all I can do – be positive. I think that positive attracts positive. So that’s what I want to do, I want to be positive.”