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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sussex Businesses Call on DelDOT to Finish Route 54 Construction

SELBYVILLE, Del. - Businesses along Route 54 in Sussex County want construction work completed before Memorial Day weekend.

About 100 people demanded action at a community meeting with the Delaware Department of Transportation at Smitty McGee's Restaurant on Wednesday. Some business owners lashed out at DelDOT over the construction project.

"It's created a nightmare for the general public to drive out here," said restaurant owner Dave Twining, who said he laid off about a dozen workers last summer because of the project.

Crews began widening the highway last year. Businesses fear drivers will avoid the area for a second summer, hurting their bottom line.
Organizers presented DelDOT with a petition of roughly 2,700 signatures calling for work to end before the holiday weekend.

"I don't think DelDOT realized how many people were impacted," said Karen Fritz, general manager at Smitty McGee's Restaurant. "I think in ten days to have that many signatures, that said a lot to them."

DelDOT said the goal is to finish work by the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend. The state blamed a slow supply of hot mix - the substance that makes pavement - for not finishing faster. Construction crews have been authorized to work extended hours and weekends.

"We do understand the impacts that construction has," said Natalie Barnhart, DelDOT Chief Engineer. "We are trying to do what we can to minimize those impacts and get them to the finish line."

Barnhart said she understands why business owners are frustrated.

"We are confident that we can get to a point where we're not going to have the traffic impacts that we saw last summer here by Memorial Day," Barnhart said.

Weather could also play a role in the finish date.

DelDOT plans to reassess progress by mid-May. If the progress is nearly complete, crews will likely continue working past Memorial Day to get the job done, but not on the holiday weekend itself, said Barnhart. If a significant amount of work has yet to be completed, the state may halt work for the summer and resume after Labor Day.

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