Assawoman Canal Trail to get Route 26 ‘underpass’

This winter, the Assawoman Canal Trail will get a small, but critical addition. An “underpass” will help pedestrians and bicyclists safely cross Route 26. The trail will hug the shoreline to cross under the Assawoman Canal bridge, connecting the trail from the existing trail information board to Riga Drive, with a sidewalk up to Garfield Parkway (Route 26).

The three-month project should be completed in the early spring of 2020, officials said. It will be ADA-compliant, for those with mobility issues.

The underpass means safe crossing for everyone who either lives on the south side of Route 26, or who wishes to visit restaurants or businesses on either side of the busy arterial road. It’s the nearest designated pedestrian crossing for at least a quarter-mile in either direction.

“The new underpass will branch from the existing trail near the information board and continue south under the bridge between the columns and the bank, then loop up to the existing sidewalk at Riga Drive,” said Robert “Bob” Ehemann, manager of the Park Resource Office, DNREC Division of Parks & Recreation. “This will allow safe access to the existing trail without crossing Route 26.”

The walkway will not cross over the water of the canal itself.

“There is about 8 feet of clearance between the support beams and the mean high water line,” Ehemann said.

Currently, it may be tough to envision that setup because filling most of that space is temporary scaffolding for a routine bridge painting project by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

This is not Delaware’s first pedestrian underpass. For instance, Brandywine Creek State Park has a similar underpass at Thompson Bridge Road.

The ultimate goal is a trail that flanks nearly the entire Assawoman Canal. In 2015, the first 1.1-mile trail segment opened north of Route 26, on the canal’s west bank. It stretches between Route 26 and Elliott Avenue, near Ocean View Marina.

Eventually, the next 1.5-mile phase of the project will stretch on the east side of the canal, southward from Route 26 to Kent Avenue and Black Gum Drive. With the underpass and sidewalk, it would eventually create the straightest route between South Bethany, Sea Colony, western Bethany Beach and Ocean View.

But the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) hasn’t announced when the trail will continue southward, since funding has not been identified.

Delaware’s expansion of trails resulted from a gubernatorial goal of making the state more “walkable and bikeable, so more of us can enjoy the great Delaware outdoors,” said then-Gov. Jack Markell in 2014. The trails network would physically connect communities to each other and to natural lands, “while expanding recreational and transportation opportunities for Delawareans and visitors.”

For the underpass, the winning bid from general contractor John L. Briggs & Co., came in slightly under the $200,000 that was budgeted from DNREC’s Trails & Pathways Initiative.

During construction, “there will be no vehicular interruption on Route 26. However, when the trail is connected to the sidewalk, Riga Drive may become one lane for a short period of time,” state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) announced in an email newsletter.

The Assawoman Canal Trail can be accessed from several places, but the main parking lot and kayak launch are located on Town Road, just off Route 26 in Ocean View, just west of Bethany Beach. There is a parking fee there, or Delaware State Parks vehicle passes are accepted.

Maps are online at https://destateparks.com/Trails. The original concept plan is online at https://dnrec.delaware.gov/parks/Information/Pages/Assawoman-Canal-Trail....

 

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter