WDEL's Road Scholar: A major corridor's transformation is challenged only by its aggressive timeline

The flyover interchange--the northernmost leg of the US-301 Mainline--has been awarded. and (Courtesy/DelDOT)

A multi-phase, multi-year project is currently underway below the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and promises a corridor suited to the considerable expansion that's occurred across the greater Middletown area.

The generational sprawl has long bottled up local routes such as Summit Bridge Road and SR-299, paving the way for the US-301 Mainline Construction project. The four-lane electronic tollway, when it's completed by the end of 2018, will transport drivers between Blue Star Memorial Highway on Maryland's North Shore and SR-1 near South Saint Georges, Delaware; thereby freeing up those burdened on Middletown's local routes.

In order to execute the ambitious timeline, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) split up the project's scope into seven principal contracts, awarding all but one of them to date across five different contractors.

"All the work needs to be done concurrently," revealed Javier Torrijos, a project engineer with DelDOT. "We've got 14 miles of highway that needs to be built in three years in order to start collecting toll revenue."

Transportation officials recently awarded the corridor's northernmost leg--which will include a flyover interchange situated near the Biddles Corner Toll Plaza--by electing to extend the work of New York-based contractor, Tutor Perini, who was already transforming the mainline's next adjacent leg. That section of new highway, which will occupy one of the corridor's limited access points, is known as the Jamison Corner Road Interchange. It extends between SR-896/Boyds Corner Road and SR-1, dog-legging thru the Whitehall Properties over towards Scott Run. Crews there are already beginning to deliver roadway foundations.

The new section of the US-301 Mainline, known as the Jamison Corner Road Interchange. (Courtesy/DelDOT)

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"They closed (down) Jamison Corner Road and started their first pile driving operation (on April 14)," Torrijos shared. "They actually started driving test piles (for dynamic load evaluation)."

The mainline's middle section--which runs parallel with Cedar Lane Road to the west--extends from the Norfolk Southern Railroad near Armstrong Corner to Boyds Corner Road, east of Mount Pleasant. That area's contractor, Richard E. Pierson of Woodstown, New Jersey, has reached the point where they're stripping top soil along the untouched farm land.

The middle section of the US-301 Mainline. It has no access point and, fittingly, stretches uninterrupted across previously untraveled farm land. (Courtesy/DelDOT)

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The North Middletown Interchange, perhaps the highway's most crucial segment, has major prep work underway to ready that area's considerable development. Awarded to Allan Meyers Contractors of Fallston, Maryland--for almost $94M--crews will use more than three years to complete it. Extending from Levels Road to Summit Bridge Road at Armstrong Corner, it will slice through open space west of the existing US-301 and draw significant natural resources from what's being called the Levels (Road) Borrow Pit.

"We're going to get a lot of material from there," Torrijos disclosed, "huge amounts of material."

The section that

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The highway's South Middletown Interchange will also deliver a new configuration, albeit one that resembles its predecessor. Greggo & Ferrara, of New Castle, will lay the four lanes west of the existing US-301 from the Maryland state line up to the Levels Road interchange, where Warwick Road transitions its traffic from Cecil County back into US-301.

What's old is new again. US-301 takes on a new appearance as it transitions from Cecil County, Maryland into Delaware. (Courtesy/DelDOT)

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One of this segment's more unique aspects involved the expedited schedule for its clearing contractor, Diamond Materials. Crews began clearing significant tree clusters on December 24, 2015, because of a force of nature---the annual mid-March migration of the protected and endangered Northern Long-Eared Bat.

"Once they start to migrate and take residence in the trees, then we can't touch those trees until after they leave--which is the end of August. All the trees were down before any bats would come onto the job site. That was a requirement."

Other crucial environmental prep work has also been completed in South Middletown, including perimeter erosion and sediment control through the use of silt fences and stone check dams.

"Before we do any major earth moving operations, we have to protect the environment by putting (in) erosion and sediment control features," Torrijos explained.

A silt fence and rip rap dam, used for limiting erosion at moved earth construction sites. (Courtesy/DelDOT)

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As the highway is constructed, embankments will be built up for bridge overpasses on Strawberry Lane, Levels Road, Bunker Hill Road, Jamison Corner Road, and Hyetts Corner Road. Conversely, crews will fill earth at other areas where US-301 will create underpasses for existing corridors such as Armstrong Corner Road, Summit Bridge Road, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and Boyds Corner Road.

Still, the greatest challenge for the thoroughfare has little to do with engineering.

"This is really straightforward work. Most of (it) is done off alignment. The challenge that we have is it's a very short period of time; three years to build this 14 miles of highway through here."

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Contact Andrew Sgroi at andrew@dbcmedia.com or follow him on Twitter at @Cuse92.