Upcoming construction on Main Street will not significantly harm local economy, DelDOT says
Associate News Editor
Last fall, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) determined that the concrete in the road of Newark’s Main Street, the city’s food court-esque hub of commerce, was aged beyond usability and required a total replacement.
This announcement struck fear into city officials and business owners, who receive the majority of their annual revenue during the fall and spring semesters while the university is in full session.
Now, with massive $11.8 million construction efforts set to begin in early-April, DelDOT is working with the City of Newark and local merchants to mitigate fears of diminishing Main Street’s economy. Originally, the project was scheduled to begin in June.
The April start date was changed according to when DelDOT put the construction contract up for bidding. The project is meant to gradually replace each layer of the aging concrete in the road; active construction zones will move incrementally east to west from Library Avenue to South Main Street.
Because closing Main Street for construction mid-semester might create inconveniences for students and other potential customers, critics are concerned that the loss of parking spaces in conjunction with greatly reduced foot and automobile traffic due to construction will decimate Newark’s businesses.
Jerry Clifton, the Newark City Council member representing District Two, likened the potential economic damage in Newark to the tourism revenue lost in Rehoboth, Del., if Route One was closed off to beach-goers during the summer months.
Joe Hofstee is a DelDOT consultant and senior project manager for the AECOM engineering firm overseeing this project to regenerate Main Street’s aging concrete. He stressed that Main Street would not close during construction, it would merely be reduced to single lane traffic.
“We’ve got to make people aware that, you know, Main Street is not closed,” Hofstee said. “Businesses are open.”
DelDOT is coordinating with the City of Newark to expand parking spaces to compensate for those temporarily lost on Main Street.
“There’s always a concern that, with any type of construction, there’s going to be some impact to the local economy,” Hofstee said. “We’re working specifically to alleviate that. Traffic will always be flowing with the exception of one or two weekends, when we have to block an intersection down entirely.”
Those particular weekends when portions of Main Street will be entirely closed are to be determined at an upcoming public workshop between the City of Newark, business owners and DelDOT on March 4. Officials expect to ratify and publish a full timeline of the construction project, which will likely continue into the summer of 2020.
“Main Street businesses have existing challenges due to the lack of a diverse housing, a lack of diverse businesses, poor traffic patterns and the ever increasing rents that landlords are charging,” Christopher Hamilton, the Newark City Council member representing District Four, said. “The road upgrades will add to those challenges.”
According to Hofstee, DelDOT has also recently partnered with Remline Marketing Services to promote the construction and inform citizens of where they may park.
Remline’s promotional campaign will distribute flyers to businesses with branding, information and a specific logo for the project. Additionally, a website will be established to update Newark citizens on the ongoing construction.
“We’ve received feedback from the businesses on Main Street about the project,” Hofstee said. “The feedback has been mixed. There are some who are looking to delay the project for months, there are also others who are in support of the project as scheduled. I’d rather not comment, not give the specific names of who said what.”
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. A new pedestrian crosswalk will be built near Klondike Kate’s.
In addition to roadwork, sections of brick will be installed on the sidewalk where they will extend, or “bump-out,” into existing parking spaces. Bump-outs are intended to make the road more safe for pedestrians, according to Hofstee, as well as more accessible for the physically disabled.
“The restaurants [on Main Street] might want to think about running specials for local residents,” Hamilton said. “They might want to partner with other businesses to provide an incentive for people to coordinate their trips to make a trip downtown, through traffic, worthwhile. In the end, Main Street, in the long run, will be fixed and looking good for a long time.”