Department of Transportation officials did not hear many complaints about the upcoming $7 million project to upgrade drawbridges in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, but the one they did hear about Lewes’ bridge is not possible.
“We’ve had people ask if we can widen the Lewes bridge,” said Stephen Richter, project manager with DelDOT’s bridge-design section. “The limits of the bridge are fixed.”
The concern, he said, lies with the limited space for bicyclists to navigate the bridge – it bottlenecks at the bridge with only a few feet on either side for bicyclists to squeeze through.
"We could reduce a car lane and provide a bit of a bike lane, but really bike lanes are supposed to be 5 feet,” Richter said. “At 3 feet, it might give a false sense of security.”
The Lewes drawbridge is 29 feet curb to curb with two 14-foot, 6-inch travel lanes. Four foot sidewalks hang off each side of the bridge.
Richter said the bridges have been in place for nearly 40 years. Lewes’ bridge is older, having previously spanned the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal on Route 1 leading into the Forgotten Mile before being moved to Lewes in the early 1980s.
Crews will work on both bridges simultaneously, Richter said. There are work schedules in place for the summer season – May 1 to Sept. 30 – and the remaining off season. Detours and most lane closures will be limited to overnight hours – 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. – for both bridges. In Lewes, crews will also be permitted to close lanes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays in the off-season.
Richter said DelDOT is trying be respectful of the festivals and events scheduled for the shoulder season and will work with the contractor to ensure work does not cause disruptions.
Despite that, Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer is concerned the work will push visitors away.
Lewes remains a popular in the off-season, she said. “I’m worried it sends the message to the general public that they shouldn’t come in, and maybe they’ll go elsewhere.”
Work on both bridges will include replacement of sidewalks and electrical control systems, upgrades and repairs to mechanical parts for the bascules, restriping of the roadway, painting of the bridges and installation of security cameras.
As for comments on work in Rehoboth, Richter said, residents and business people had some concerns about noise from overnight work.
Richter said it’s either disruption during the day or a little noise at night.
“You have to decide what medicine you want to take,” he said. “Neither one tastes good.”
Construction is set to begin next summer and continue through fall 2019.