It’s official: Route 26 construction will continue until September 2016

Date Published: 
August 14, 2015

The denizens of Route 26 will have bear the brunt of another full summer of road construction, as the Route 26 improvement project’s construction end date has been pushed back to Sept. 7, 2016, for completion of the 4-plus-mile project to widen Atlantic Avenue from St. George’s U.M. Church in Clarksville to Ocean View’s Assawoman Canal bridge.

It’s not a complete surprise to many, but it’s unpleasant news all the same.

“We’ve encountered more lost days to weather since the beginning of this project,” said Ken Cimino (resident engineer, AECOM) at the construction advisory group’s public meeting on Aug. 11. “All in total, there have been 75 days lost,” which adds another full summer season.

When project began on Jan. 6 2014, the original completion date was June 24, 2016. But that always came with a caveat: contractor George & Lynch has 901 days to build the road, but the Delaware Department of Transpiration won’t penalize them for unavoidable weather delays.

DelDOT has now granted two contract time extensions for days lost to weather. Last September, it was 32 calendar days, which extended the project end date to late July of 2016. In June, it was another 43 calendar days, which extends the project to the current end date of Sept. 7, 2016.

George & Lynch is well aware it would pay penalties for exceeding the official contract completion date, barring any future excused weather days. In all, G&L was granted 48 days in the 2014 calendar year, plus 27 days in the first half of 2015.

Aware of the economic importance of a summer tourist season, DelDOT has already limited the contractors to certain work hours in the summer. From May 15 to Sept. 30, traffic cannot be affected from Friday morning to Monday evening. Lane closures are only allowed on weeknights, from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., although lane shifts continue on weekdays.

“We’ve been providing flaggers at every business entrance, and that is to make sure customers and employees can get in and out as quickly as possible,” Cimino said.

The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce said they appreciated that gesture but were understandably unhappy about the extension.

“Are there any alternatives to possibly move that date up?” asked a “disappointed” Kristie Maravalli, executive director of the Chamber. (In recent emails to the project group, other business owners had also written about the tough beach economy of late.)

“At this time, we’re not exploring any alternatives,” said Sarah Criswell, area engineer for DelDOT.

During the planning process, the project team considered many options, said Tom Banez, a DelDOT project manager. “Not working in summer was going to result in this project taking way too long to build. I think it’s five, six years. We kind of had to make a compromise [and find the] best solution by allowing the contractor to work during summer.”

“That doesn’t mean George & Lynch are going to work all the way up to that time. Hopefully, they’ll finish … a few weeks early,” Cimino said.

“We’re working every day as much as we can,” said Mike Delp of G&L. “We’re working both ends,” but can’t do certain work at night, and must work around weather and wet materials.

State Sen. Gerald Hocker, who attended the meeting, said he mostly hears concerns from the business community. “I feel if they knew it was going to be over three summers, they would [not have wanted summer work],” he said.

“We appreciate that, but these are not decisions we make. We’re bound by the plans and specs,” said Delp.

Lately, George & Lynch has focused on the east end of the project area, trying to finish areas closer to the beach.

“Our intent is to try to get out of the east end of the project,” from Old Mill Road in Millville to the east, said Delp.

Rain hasn’t eased the challenge of installing of the force main and gravity sewer pipe, he said.

The area around Lord Baltimore Elementary School, specifically, is getting a lot of attention, as crews try to get out of there before school starts on Sept. 8.

Since June, contractors have had ongoing storm sewer pipe installation in the east and west ends of the project. Much curbing has been installed in the east, giving people an idea of the improved road’s final footprint. By October, widening should be done in the west, said Delp. An estimated 55 percent of the base paving is already complete, in anticipation of the top layer of hot mix.

Next, they’ll continue curb work and additional paving westward from Old Mill Road.

Powell Farm Road and surrounding areas will be the focus in autumn.

Tidewater Utilities is expanding its service simultaneously with the DelDOT project. Also hiring contractors George & Lynch, Tidewater is laying a 16-inch water main from Railway Avenue toward Whites Neck Road, also with the same summer scheduling restrictions.

The project team answered other questions about drainage on Aug. 11. They noted that the new traffic signals will have connected timing, to ensure traffic flows smoothly through. Delp agreed to request that his subcontractor find ways to reduce white dust that clouds the roadway during electric sawing.

When asked about potholes and rough road surfaces, Cimino said he drives the entire project almost daily, including after rainstorms, to ensure adequate driving conditions.

“A lot of the road that we haven’t touched is coming undone,” Delp said of some areas George & Lynch hasn’t done much with. “We’re pretty steady fixing trenches and potholes.”

Much of the road patching on the west end is from Sussex County sewer work, Cimino clarified.

The next public meeting of the advisory group will be Oct. 13 at 10 a.m. at Bethany Beach Town Hall.