Road Scholar Artwork

A road realignment project south of Bear will continue to churn along, despite unforeseen setbacks and an evolving work phase schedule.

Howell School Road, an east-to-west collector road connecting SR-71/Red Lion Road with SR-896/Summit Bridge Road, began a 649 calendar day project on March 7, 2016. The goal would be to ultimately sync up the roadway with Denny Road at Route 896, in order to make a singular intersection.

The progress, in short, had been significantly impacted by real-time discoveries.

"The project has had a lot of different utility delays," revealed Rich Palmer, Area Engineer for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). "And so it is not following the schedule that we originally thought it was going to follow."

For instance, effective January 30, 2017, crews were just beginning Phase 1 drainage work. That was work which should have been completed before August 2016, when Howell School Road was temporarily closed between the entrance to Lums Pond State Park and Summit Bridge Road in order to place a box culvert, among other utility items.

Howell School Rd Box Culvert

A box culvert, and adjacent utilities, (red) were placed underneath Howell School Road, in the area of Buck Jersey Road, beginning in August 2016.

"The (drainage) work was supposed to be done when there was still a connection to 896 (Summit Bridge Road)," Palmer explained.

So, to allow for this reconstituted phasing, DelDOT reopened the existing stretch of Howell School Road to traffic on January 30, albeit temporarily.

"In reality, (the contractor, Mumford & Miller, of Middletown) has done a lot of work out of phase, so they should be on schedule at the end," Palmer reassured.

One aspect of the work nearly completed--arguably the project's most crucial component--is the construction of the new, western portion of Howell School Road. The relocated roadway, which would eliminate access to the Meadow Glen subdivision from Summit Bridge Road, requires only a top coat of asphalt before it can be placed into service.

Other work that had already been completed, with some modifications, was utility work along the Summit Bridge Road corridor.

"In order to widen northbound 896---to put in a new turn lane to the new Howell School Road---we had to extend two 54-inch diameter drainage pipes," Palmer explained. "According to the (New Castle) county records, the force main sewers were low enough that they would not be in our way. When the contractor started excavating to put these (drainage) pipes in, they were in the way."

That revelation led to an unintended redesign of the sewer line, its subsequent approval, and eventual installation.

Another problem also lurked beneath the surface within the project limits.

"Anyone who lives in that area knows that (when) you dig down a few feet, you hit water," Palmer divulged. "So, right now, we're having problems with getting a couple of our (traffic) light pole foundations in. They have to withstand a lot of pull span-wise. The contractor dug down and said that they can't work in the (wet) conditions that are there, so we have to redesign some (foundations)."

Other areas within the 1.1 miles of construction were currently underway and meeting their proposed timelines.

"We're working on the intersection at Denny Road, in the middle of 896. We have the crossover from Denny Road closed (and) Denny Road is currently detoured to turn north onto 896."

When the contractor planned to shut down Howell School Road again, following the rescheduled drainage work between February and March 2017, a widening of Howell School Road would take place at the Lums Pond entrance. Additionally, the existing portion would be tied in with the relocated leg.

Then, before the lengthy scope of work completed by December 2017, a roundabout would be constructed at Robert Peoples Boulevard.

"We have to build a short detour road, for the residents of Caravel Woods and Mansion Farms," said Palmer, "to come onto Howell School Road while we construct that roundabout."

All moving parts, literally, even when commuters might not literally see men and machinery moving.

"A lot of people don't realize that even when they don't see work going on, we have engineers who are redesigning things. (Still), we've been working hard keeping the contractor on the site and working, so that he doesn't have to shut down every time we come up with a problem."