DelDOT opts for wintertime closure for Armory Road

People spoke up, and DelDOT listened. After a public outcry over a potential summertime road closure of Armory Road (Route 20) near Dagsboro, the Delaware Department of Transportation announced this week that construction will instead be completed next winter, one year from now.

DelDOT has anticipated a four-week Armory Road closure in order to replace a small bridge over deteriorating culvert pipes. Depending on public feedback, they were previously considering a summertime project on the popular beach route, aiming to avoid an impact on school traffic.

“In going through the public comment process,” before it even ended on Jan. 9, “it is clear there is a large desire to not impact the summer traffic, given the number of comments received,” said DelDOT spokesperson Charles “C.R.” McLeod. “We are glad to adjust the schedule to accommodate what the impacted travelers and businesses want. It is the reason that we ask for feedback through in-person and virtual public workshops.”

Now, based on environmental restrictions for the stream, as well as concerns for beach-season traffic congestion, the contractor will be required to complete construction work between December 2020 and April 2021.

The project will require a full road closure (at the bridge only) and traffic detour for about 28 days. All nearby homes and businesses will still be accessible, although some people will need to detour to reach their destination.

Hardly noticeable to most motorists, the culvert site is about halfway down the 2.5-mile road. It’s alongside the Parsons Farms Produce market and within a mile of Indian River High School and the Delaware Army National Guard facility.

In the proposed project, DelDOT will replace the existing corrugated metal pipes with reinforced concrete pipes. Also, new riprap will be installed upstream and downstream of the bridge to reduce storms erosion. The pipes carry the Herring Branch waterway under Armory Road, toward Vines Creek and the Indian River Bay.

Initially, DelDOT’s traffic group was not pressing for a calendar restriction because Route 20’s summertime traffic increase is less significant than most other east/west routes.

“One of the most common comments we receive from the public is that we cater to beach traffic too much and often forget the locals, so we felt like this was an opportunity to leave the contract flexible so the contractor could pick the best time to construct it,” McLeod said.

Moreover, “The nearby school was a concern, due to the number of buses, as well as teenage drivers having to traverse the detour route,” which meant bonus points for a summer plan.

But nearby farms and produce stands do rely on summer traffic for their success, and business owners feared a summertime project would drive their customers away.

“Summer is not the time to close the road for a bridge repair,” a post on the Parsons Farm Produce Facebook page stated. “This bridge is located right beside our farm and would force us to close during the repair.”

The family not only emailed DelDOT, they asked other friends and customers to do so, too.

Neighboring Bennett Orchards also posted on their Facebook page early this week, appealing to social media followers: “Delmarva, we need your help! The Delaware Department of Transportation is seeking input on the potential month-long closure of a section of Armory Road (the road in front of our orchards) during the summer.

“While they still claim you will be able to access our pick your own operations, vital drive-by traffic helps us and other area businesses immensely in the summer months. Additionally, this would bottleneck surrounding areas as Armory Road is a vital access road to our beaches. Please leave comments online, by mail and by phone. We are asking DELDOT to complete the project in the spring and to expedite the project, as replacing a culvert should not take 28 days,” they said.

But while they didn’t opt for a spring project, DelDOT officials did seem to have gotten the message about the proposed summer closure of the road.

“That would have really devastated our business,” Paul Parsons told the Coastal Point. “The whole Parsons family is grateful for the decision, and … really thankful to the public for all their support.”

Residents had also worried about how detoured beach traffic could affect response times, from emergency vehicles to wildlife control.

But a rescheduling doesn’t mean this project will be painless. Armory Road will still be partially closed for one month during the school year.

“We are going to do our best to schedule the work during a school break, but the work generally takes 28 days to complete, so there likely will be impacts to the school transportation system for some period of time,” McLeod said. “We will do our best to minimize these impacts.”

The project website (at https://deldot.gov/projects/bridgepipeline/BR3-441) shows a road map and detour route; photos of the existing 52-foot pipes; and a construction plan of the proposed 80-foot pipes.

The project is part of a wider effort to repair Delaware’s aging infrastructure, including the many corrugated metal pipe culvert locations that have reached or exceeded their 30-year service life.

Before any construction begins on Bridge 441, DelDOT must evaluate the public comments; obtain permits and easements; and coordinate with utility companies. The contractor for Armory Road will be Zack Excavating.

Although the public comments period closed on Jan. 9, the Armory Road project plans are online at https://deldot.gov/projects/bridgepipeline/BR3-441.

Anyone without internet access can contact DelDOT to view the physical documents by calling toll-free 1-800-652-5600 or (302) 760-2080, or by mailing DelDOT Community Relations; P.O. Box 778; Dover, DE 19903.

 

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter