DelDOT keeps roadwork projects on track through pandemic

DelDOT has seen a significant decrease in traffic volumes across the state over the past several weeks, which has provided opportunities to do work during weekdays that might otherwise be limited to nights and/or weekends. Delaware State News/Ashley Dawson

DOVER — Time does not wait on any project when it comes to keeping Delaware’s roadways, bridges and other infrastructure in top-running condition.

That’s what has made the challenge of working through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic so challenging for the Delaware Department of Transportation’s (DelDOT) employees and the contractors that work for them.

Keeping roads maintained and in operating order is the epitome of “essential” when it comes to business in Delaware.

However, employees and construction workers must also keep in mind and practice the “new normal”-era of social distancing and other protective rules issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH).

Charles “C.R.” McLeod, director of community relations for DelDOT, said keeping the state’s transportation initiatives moving forward is a grueling task that involves several different departments and levels.

“Among the businesses classified as essential in Governor (John) Carney’s State of Emergency are highway and road construction, building construction, utilities, engineering and other professional services,” Mr. McLeod said. “Currently there are dozens of active construction and engineering projects across the state and more beginning in the weeks ahead. Construction projects provide thousands of jobs in our state, and we want these projects to continue while ensuring the health and safety of the workers. The construction industry also helps the state’s restaurants, convenience stores and fueling stations.

“DelDOT is requiring that all the employees and contractors to follow the protective rules the Centers for Disease Control and the Delaware Division of Public Health has mandated to slow the spread of the virus. This includes that all field work will be done in two-person crews to ensure that no more than two people are in a vehicle at the same time, and social distancing on all work sites.”

For DelDOT, department-wide, the rules from the CDC tell employees to mandatory telecommute where possible; if employees are in the office they must exercise social distancing; all meetings are to be done telephonically and field-crew vehicles are limited to two occupants.

“DelDOT provides services to thousands of Delawareans each day, and we want to do all we can to ensure their safety and that of our employees as we work together to limit the spread of coronavirus,” said Jennifer Cohan, secretary of transportation.

Mr. McLeod said the State of Emergency issued in the wake of coronavirus has affected every nook of DelDOT.

“The Governor’s State of Emergency also classified state government as essential,” he said. “While a large portion of the department are telecommuting, we have hundreds still working on job sites and in our facilities across the state.”

If there’s one huge positive that is taking place on highway worksites, it’s that traffic has been down noticeably since Gov. Carney issued his stay-at-home order for non-essential employees on March 22.

That makes it easier to conduct DelDOT construction projects such as repaving roads, removing and replacing crossroad pipes, updating intersections to make them safer and handling other issues that can pop up overnight. DelDOT did not have definitive numbers as to the exact number of projects that are taking place statewide or the number of people working on them, saying “Our projects are proceeding as planned and we are doing all we can to help contractors accomplish as much work as possible.”

Mr. McCleod said the reduction in traffic due to the pandemic has provided workers on DelDOT projects with a little bit more working space.

“We have seen a significant decrease in the range of 40-50 percent in traffic volumes across the state over the past several weeks, which has provided opportunities to do work during weekdays that might otherwise be limited to nights and/or weekends, allowing our employees and contractors to work more aggressively on several of our projects,” he said. “While less traffic is more conducive to safety, April is National Work Zone Safety Awareness month, and we’ve had a number of close calls on our roads with employees and contractors already this year and want to remind everyone who still has to be out to please slow down and use caution in our work zones.”

Traffic might actually get even lighter after Gov. Carney signed the seventh modification to his State of Emergency declaration on March 29, ordering all out-of-state travelers into Delaware to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Under the order, anyone who enters Delaware from another state must immediately self-quarantine for 14 days. The 14-day period is measured from the time of entry into Delaware or for the duration of the individual’s presence in Delaware, whichever is shorter.

Some DMV services open

While many employees for the Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) services are working from home, there are still many who are continuing to keep business running.

“DelDOT remains open for business and are processing project bids, land development reviews, approvals and permits,” Mr. McLeod said. “We have limited public access to our four DMVs to appointment only, and employees are working and processing transactions that are being directed online, to our kiosks or at our drive-through lanes.

“Our hundreds of maintenance and operations employees continue to work and complete their many tasks from pothole repair, cleaning drainage system, and are now beginning to mow grass. DART First State is operating on a modified schedule while taking measures to protect our drivers and passengers.”

DelDOT is encouraging customers in need of DMV services to utilize, which offers more than 20 services online, including renewal of Delaware Driver License/ID, renewing vehicle registration and changing an individual’s home address.

Also, to keep crowds in DMV’s lobbies to a minimum, they decided in late March to begin waiving late fees for vehicle registration and driver license renewals until further notice. DelDOT is also encouraging exclusive use of the drive-through services at all DMV locations and is only accepting credit or debit cards.

DMV lobbies will be continually monitored with the goal of keeping them below 50 people. They are also encouraging customers that do not have direct business with DMV or are not accompanying a customer that requires assistance to remain in their vehicle.

These DMV services have been suspended until further notice: All Class D and Commercial Driver License (CDL) road exams; motorcycle safety courses conducted at all DMV locations; vision tests will be temporarily waived; emissions testing for vehicles and Auto Theft Unit (ATU) transactions.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we do not want anyone to feel that they must visit one of our facilities in person at this time to avoid late fees,” said Secretary Cohan.

To further protect customers and employees, all DMV locations have increased their cleaning and disinfecting efforts.

The DMV said it is closely monitoring this rapidly evolving situation through DPH and the CDC to ensure that it has the most up-to-date information to guide its operations.

“This situation is new for all of us and one that was hard to imagine just a month ago,” Mr. McLeod said. “Our employees have done a tremendous job of working through the challenges we have been presented with over the past month, and we’ll continue to adapt as needed and ensure we are doing our best to meet the needs of our employees and customers in a safe and efficient manner.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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