DelDOT, Markell discuss Delaware dollars, delays on Route 26

Four miles of roadway have gotten a lot of attention lately, and Gov. Jack Markell and DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt attended the most recent Route 26 Working Group meeting to address the subject.

“When it comes to projects like these, you’ll see folks like [me] at groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings,” but not this time, Bhatt said. “We wanted to get out ahead of the issues, meeting with the community.”

Bhatt said he even brought his senior leadership team to the Quiet Resorts to understand the impact early on.

“We go out looking at construction impacts, but we need to be cognizant of the public. If there’s ever a questions what we’re doing, [call us],” he said.

Local residents, businesses and vacationers are “at ground zero,” Markell said. “Thanks for the patience you’ve shown and you’ll have to show over the next few years.”

The expansion of Route 26 from Clarksville to Ocean View will include a shared center turn lane to help prevent traffic backups, shoulders for bicycle traffic and sidewalks from Ocean View to Millville.

“It’s important to first-responders increasingly plagued by traffic tie-ups, insufficient pedestrian facilities and … for bikes and drainage.”

For Markell, a cherry on top for the project is a more “walkable and bikable” Delaware. Bhatt said that the growing cost prohibited building a sidewalk all the way to Clarksville, where the project area ends, but DelDOT will monitor future demand.

“It is incredible how much a 4-mile project can be,” Markell said. “We’re going to do it the right way.”

Talking money

Although the project is worth about $55 million, Delaware will only pay about 20 percent of that cost. Federal money will pay for the other 80 percent of construction and land acquisition fees.

Because such a significant chunk of the project was federally funded, Markell noted that U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. John Carney (all D-Del.) “have been extremely focused on this project,” meaning his staff were just as focused.

That cost has actually decreased from original estimates, DelDOT Project Manager Tom Banez told the Coastal Point. A decade ago, the State of Delaware expected to pay around $44 million just for real estate acquisition — a price higher than construction itself.

“This was about when the market was about to collapse, back in 2006,” Banez said.

Now land acquisition is expected to cost about $20 million.

Meanwhile all four builders’ bids came in at less than the estimated $29.6 million, with George & Lynch bidding $25 million.

The total $35 million construction price tag includes George & Lynch, AECOM’s inspection team, contingencies, erosion sediment control and more. (That does not include the $16.9 million Detour Routes project — which included $8.58 million to George & Lynch for the construction portion alone — to revamp back roads in anticipation of additional traffic on them during the mainline construction.)

Markell said he was pleased with the economic development opportunity of hiring a Delaware-based construction company, George & Lynch.

After the construction industry was hit particularly hard by the recession, “We have an opportunity to give workers in that industry a chance to get back on the job,” Markell said later that afternoon.

About a dozen other Delaware companies are providing labor and materials for Route 26, too, said Chris Baker, executive vice president for George & Lynch.

“We’re certainly going to make sure you get what you paid for as taxpayers,” Baker said.

George & Lynch is a familiar name on Sussex projects, including the Route 26 Detour Routes and the new approach-ways to the Indian River Inlet Bridge.

“We’re all going to have to learn together for the next two to three years. I hope we’re friends at the end of it,” he said wryly.

When is construction in front of my home?

An AECOM inspection team was hired to oversee the project for DelDOT.

AECOM does the basics, including traffic control, safety, daily inspections and maintaining project costs and schedule.

But after the problems with the recent Route 54 improvements — in which summertime lane closures caused heavy traffic backups and businesses suffered — DelDOT demanded that the next project be completely transparent.

AECOM brought in Ken Cimino for one purpose: to handle citizen concerns. He’s the on-site public outreach coordinator — part of every community meeting and at the end of every question or complaint along Route 26. Residents and businesses with questions or concerns can contact him at (302) 616-2621, or or 17 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 2, in Ocean View.

“DelDOT does not have the in-house resources to inspect a project with the size and complexity of SR26,” Banez said. “DelDOT also wants to make sure that the problems that were encountered on the SR54 project don't happen on SR26. Part of ensuring that is hiring a consultant inspection team that specializes in this type of work.”

“I don’t think anyone knows 26 as well as me,” said state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr. (R-20th). “This couldn’t have come any sooner.”

He lamented the frustration people suffered on Route 54, as well as the money Delaware might have saved if Route 26 construction had continued after the Bethany Beach leg was completed in 2001.

He praised Cimino’s helpful attitude, noting that the public outreach coordinator had said, “If you’ve got any construction questions, you give them my card.”

State Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) also thanked everyone involved with the project. An engineer himself, Gray said he keeps a set of Route 26 plans in his car, and he’s happy to speak with people, too.

“If you do have a concern, tell us now, because we’d rather discuss it now than … let it fester,” said chief engineer Jill Frey of Century Engineering.

“It’s probably much easier to build a new road 4 miles long than reconstruct,” Baker said, as builders work through existing traffic, utilities, sewer relocation and “entrances approximately every 100 feet along roadway.”

Despite lane closures now and lane shifts during busy hours, Route 26 will only close completely once in the next few years. Two bridges, near Millville Town Hall and Lord Baltimore Elementary School, are to be replaced between January and March of 2015, so motorists will have to drive around the closures to access points between. However, pedestrians and cyclists will be allowed through the construction zone. That work could take place in the winter of 2016 if certain preparations, such as the detour routes, aren’t finished.

The countdown begins

The 901-day project received a Jan. 6 notice to begin. DelDOT penalizes companies that exceed the established deadline, but not usually for unavoidable weather delays.

“The first day it rains, it’s 902 days,” explained Sam Bostik, resident engineer for AECOM. “In the first 58 days, we lost 17 days,” he noted, before the March 16 to 17 snowfall. “We may go three weeks and have beautiful weather.”

“This is a more severe winter this winter than we’re used to,” Baker said.

Mother Nature may push the project beyond the original September of 2016 end date, but Bostik said he hopes the project moves so smoothly that people don’t notice.

“Our goal throughout is minimize impact and keep people happy,” he said. “Eventually, all the pieces of the puzzle will come together.”

Public meetings of the Construction Advisory Group (CAG) will be held the second Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m., beginning April 8, at Bethany Beach Town Hall.

“We want your feedback, and we welcome your feedback,” said Cimino, adding that his goal is a strong dialog so “on a weekly basis everyone knows what’s going on.”

Motorists should look for flaggers on Route 26 between March 21 and 28. Motorists should continue to expect lane closures from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in several areas — first between Woodland Avenue and Tyler Drive for clearing and grubbing and relocation of sewer force mains; between Route 17 (Roxana Road) and Powell Farm Road for installation of a new pump station; and between Town Center Drive and Grants Avenue for saw-cutting of the roadway for widening.

Lane closures will not be required for utility relocation work or silt fence installation throughout the entire project.

Drivers in Clarksville can already see where a thick swath of trees was recently removed. The bare soil was then sown with rye seed (inexpensive, but quick to germinate) and covered in bright green dyed mulch. That will temporarily prevent erosion, until it’s time to lay the actual road.

Tree and wetlands mitigation are part of the project, although “you will not see those go up for a while,” Frey said.

More information is available on the DelDOT Route 26 Project website, at People can register there to receive emailed updates.