Route 26 a model for future construction projects

Date Published: 
August 12, 2016

Questions or complaints? Please call!

That has been the Delaware Department of Transportation’s public message throughout their 2.5-year construction project on Route 26.

The SR 26 Mainline Project has tested a new level of public outreach. Years before actual road construction began in early 2014, DelDOT was hosting public workshops and information sessions. Throughout the 901-day project, people could get bi-monthly updates at the Construction Advisory Group’s public meetings.

That’s not exactly news. All of that has been done before.

The new aspect of DelDOT’s outreach was the hiring of a construction manager who specifically would serve as an on-site public outreach coordinator. Anyone was allowed to call Ken Cimino, and he aimed to respond within hours.

“Ken has been very instrumental in keeping things running smoothly as possible,” said Diane Koch of First Shore Federal in Millville, which is along the construction zone. He responded immediately, even if it wasn’t the answer people always wanted to hear. “He gave us the best answer that was available. He’s just worked great with the businesses.”

That’s a substantial improvement over unhappy residents having to call their state legislators, who then call DelDOT Community Relations in Dover, who then call construction staff.

That also put everyone on the same page, reducing rumors for the good of the project and everyone, including residents, legislators, businesses, contractors George & Lynch and AECOM inspection team.

“We wanted to thank everyone here,” Jim Westhoff, DelDOT community relations officer, who came from Dover to say that to everyone at the Aug. 8 CAG meeting. “Without you, this project would not have been as successful — not just for this project, but for the rest of the state. This has become a model for how we [do public relations] across the state.”

In fact, after Route 26, Cimino will head north to do on-site public outreach for the new U.S. Route 301 Mainline Construction Project, a massive project to create a four-lane highway bypass around the congested Route 301 in Middletown. Bi-monthly public meetings have already begun.

“We’re going to use this as a model for how we do future projects, because it’s been such a success,” Westhoff continued. “You’ve all helped us make this project better.”

“I think I’m the only guy that I know of that does this in this state and in Maryland,” Cimino said last winter.

“What I do is unique. … I guess [DelDOT] thought we did such a good job” that they wanted to continue the trend on Route 301.

Cimino himself has plenty of experience in public complaints and outreach, coming from Maryland State Highway Administration and having served as the Maryland Transportation Authority’s human face of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Cimino’s goals are to “be a patient listener. I think most people want a sounding board. … See people in-person when you can, [and] get back to them in a timely manner.”

If he can’t fix something, he still explains why not.

“I’m a construction manager. I just happen to do all the outreach,” he previously told the Coastal Point.

DelDOT learned its lesson with the Route 54 Mainline Project, which stopped traffic and angered business owners at the height of the summer season. It was only after public meetings began, state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. (R-20) said, that the complaints to his office stopped.

Hocker has since praised the Route 26 outreach, noting that Cimino once said, “If you’ve got any construction questions, you give them my card.”

This go-around, DelDOT’s project contracts actually included public outreach. The builders attended public meetings, too. Informational signs were posted miles before the construction zones, warning traffic of construction ahead, with alternate routes available. “Businesses open” signs were also posted and moved around, as requested.

The project website at www.deldot.gov/information/projects/sr26 features a weekly email update and project blog.

The end is near

With 96 official weather days impacting the work, the Route 26 project currently has an official end date of Sept. 28.

“It’s been a long 32 months for everyone,” Cimino said. “I think you can now start to see some of the benefits of this infrastructure project. You can start to see the increased … mobility” for cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

The whole 4-plus-mile road was widened and temporarily striped by Memorial Day so the public could use the new configuration.

Now, the main road has been completely re-surfaced, and permanent lines will be painted. Builders are smoothing the edges, and tying the new pavement into side roads, driveways and the eastern end of Route 26.

There is still electrical work to do, including installing two new speed limit signs by Lord Baltimore Elementary School and the permanent traffic signal at Central Avenue and Cedar Drive.

“After that, just clean up the road, remove sediment controls, then pack up and get out of here,” Cimino said of what is yet to come.

People will still see workers along the project area after September, cleaning up and finalizing any “odds and ends,” said Sarah Criswell, DelDOT area engineer. “Though we’ll be done in September, we won’t necessarily be gone from the site.”

“My staff will walk through and do a semi-final inspection, and they’ll create what we call a ‘punch list,’” Cimino said, “anywhere from drum weights that need to be picked up to a cracked piece of sidewalk that needs to be replaced.”

An official roadway ribbon-cutting is planned for September.

How to turn (lane)

The center turn lane along the entirety of the project area is Atlantic Avenue’s most obvious upgrade. Regular traffic is expected to move more smoothly because vehicles turning left can move into a shared center lane.

However, it is not a passing lane and is also not intended as a merge lane for traffic entering the roadway.

The turn lane is intended to “allow traffic to turn left into driveways, commercial entrances and at minor cross-street intersections,” Cimino wrote in an email.

“Since the lane is to be shared, vehicles should enter this lane as close as possible to the [location] in which they intend to make the left turn,” according to Cimino.

A good rule of thumb is to enter the lane about 300 feet from the turn — the same distance as people would start to use their turn signal.

“When the center turn lane is to be shared by vehicles travelling in both directions, you will see a solid yellow line in combination with a broken yellow line,” he added.

Yellow means traffic is coming from the opposite direction. But a dashed line means cars can still enter the lane. Painted arrows will show drivers which direction of traffic (usually both) may enter the center lane.

The lane sometimes becomes a dedicated turn lane for one direction only, usually at major intersections.

But drivers should already be used to the configuration, because Route 26 already has a mile of center turn lanes in western Bethany Beach, from the Assawoman Canal to Route 1.

“The best public outreach we could do is to point people to that section of the roadway, which they have been using for the past 15 years,” Cimino stated. “DelDOT implemented those improvements in 2001 and has seen an improvement in the flow of traffic, without an increase in crashes, since that time.”

Like all things, he said, the public will likely become comfortable with the new traffic pattern over time.

“During these final months of construction, the traveling public should use caution as they accustom themselves to using the roadway in the new condition and to watch for our workers as they complete construction,” Cimino concluded.

State Rep. Ron Gray (R-38) has also asked that people drive cautiously in the middle lane.

“It’s really a route that, hopefully, can be used by emergency vehicles, if needed, so regular drivers need” to be watchful, Gray said. “Don’t just hang there for long periods, and be aware of other people in that lane. If an emergency vehicle’s trying to get through, just be cognizant of other traffic … or another drivers that stopped being very observant.”