Necessary spring construction could diminish Main Street economy
Newark’s Main Street will undergo large-scale construction for a period of approximately 18 months, according to acting city manager Tom Coleman. While many believe that this construction project is dangerously overdue, critics warn that restricted traffic will significantly impact local businesses.
The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has determined that the layer of concrete beneath the surface of the road is past its usable life cycle and must be replaced.
Beginning in the spring, reconstruction work will take place, moving east to west from Library Avenue to South Main Street. A pedestrian crosswalk will be built near Klondike Kate’s.
The total construction budget is around $15 million, according to Joe Hofstee, a DelDOT consultant and senior project manager for the AECOM engineering firm.
In active work areas, traffic is expected to be constricted to a single lane and many parking spaces will be unavailable until the project is completed.
Bus stops may also be temporarily relocated during construction. The stop near Newark Deli and Bagels will be permanently moved closer to the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue.
Hofstee argues that a full resurfacing and reconstruction is necessary. Simply repaving or patching the road will only prolong Main Street’s deterioration.
“The concrete underneath the roadway needs to be replaced soon,” Hofstee said. “That’s what’s causing the cracks and the potholes that you’re seeing on the surface. The issue is that the existing roadway is so bad, you can’t just do an overlay. You’ve gotta do full-depth reconstruction.”
The construction project has garnered some controversy among those who believe the urgent need for the roadwork does not outweigh the potential economic damage to Newark businesses. Originally, the project was scheduled to begin in June in order to minimize any effects on local businesses, who receive the majority of their revenue during the school year.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed in DelDOT,” Jerry Clifton, the Newark City Council member representing District 2, said. “This project is desperately needed, we appreciate getting the work done, but it’s now going to be a huge inconvenience to residents. What sits deeper with me is the huge loss of revenue that’ll take place in the restaurant community, the businesses downtown.”
Once construction concludes sometime in the summer of 2020, Hofstee predicts that similar projects will not need to be done again for another 50 years, although minor maintenance would occur each decade.
DelDOT has not yet decided which company they will contract for the project. Once construction is underway, DelDOT and the City of Newark will have inspectors on site. They will be monitoring to ensure that progress is made on schedule and according to specifications and regulations.
In addition to roadwork, sections of brick will be installed on the sidewalk where they will extend, or “bump-out,” into existing parking spaces. These bump-outs are intended to make the road more safe for pedestrians and more accessible for the physically disabled. Bump-outs may be given bike racks and benches.
Clifton is concerned that the loss of parking spaces in conjunction with greatly reduced foot and automobile traffic due to construction will decimate Newark’s businesses. He believes the economic damage in Newark will be comparable to the beach tourism revenue lost in Rehoboth if Route One was closed during the summer.
“This scares me to death,” Clifton said. “If there’s something so compelling that DelDOT has no other choice than to do this during the semester, then they should make their case to the City, the university, the residents. I mean, we have a right to know, the stakeholders have a right to know, you’ve got a right to know. Anyways, good luck getting to class next year.”