Homeowner ready to rumble over road work

 

SMYRNA — It’s louder in front of Donald Goldsborough’s home these days, and he’s struggling with that.

With new rumble strips in place, the Delaware Department of Transportation believes Woodland Beach Road (Del. 6) is much safer now.

Donald Goldsborough of Smyrna kneels in the middle of Woodland Beach Road, which passes in front of his home, and the deep rumble strips that he claims are too noisy. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Donald Goldsborough of Smyrna kneels in the middle of Woodland Beach Road, which passes in front of his home, and the deep rumble strips that he claims are too noisy. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Two weeks ago a surprised Mr. Goldsborough got an earful of vehicles hitting the protective area carved into the roadway.

Every few minutes now, or sometimes seconds depending on the traffic flow, comes a rumbling reminder — which DelDOT describes as a low-pitched buzzing sound — of work on the two-lane road east of Smyrna.

According to DelDOT, traffic volume on Del. 6 ranges from approximately 5,400 vehicles daily toward the east Smyrna limits, to roughly 540 vehicles in the Woodland Beach area.

To curb vehicles leaving the roadway, a lead factor in causing fatal accidents on high-speed roadways like the 50 mph zone in front of Mr. Goldsborough’s residence, DelDOT said rumble strips are crucial and officially part of Delaware’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

“Due to the unpredictability of the locations of these types of crashes, DelDOT is making system-wide efforts to install rumble strips along entire lengths of these road types statewide,” DelDOT Traffic Safety Engineer Scott Neidert said.

Mr. Neidert cited national studies showing a 40 to 60 percent reduction in center line crossover crashes involving a motorist drift to the left, and roughly 30 percent drop in drifting to the right with rumble strips in place.

Mr. Goldsborough is skeptical about the safety impact, concerned that over-correction to what DelDOT describes as a likely unforgettable sensation of driving over the strips will cause more accidents; motorcycles and out of area drivers often traveling the stretch toward nearby Woodland Beach or Boon Docks Restaurant at the intersection of Lighthouse Road could be especially vulnerable, he believes.

“I don’t think they put much thought into it,” he said.

Speaking from personal driving experience, Mr. Goldsborough said, “When I hit the strips I tend to over-correct the other way and I don’t feel that’s very safe either.”

Plus, there’s that intermittent noise.

“It’s been a week now and it’s not getting any better,” Mr. Goldsborough said on Friday, on the eighth day of installation.

There’s no escaping it, he said, whether outside cutting firewood or working in the garden, relaxing on the front porch or when inside.

“From the front porch it’s as plain as anything,” Mr. Goldsborough said.

“With windows closed it helps, but it’s getting warmer and it’s time to open the windows. A lot of people close up there home and turn on the central air, but we don’t live that way.”

For now, his nighttime slumber hasn’t been affected, but warmer times and the joy of open windows are fast approaching.

“It’s a little bothersome,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I can sleep but I know when I open the windows in the summertime it’s not going to work.”

A long-time area resident whose family “has been here so long we don’t know how long it has been,” Mr. Goldsborough doesn’t believe there’s been any significant safety issues in the stretch in front of his road before.

“Why all of a sudden after the last 100 years do we need it?” he asked rhetorically.

Countered DelDOT spokesman Greg Layton:

“I should emphasize that we’re not waiting for crashes to implement these safety features,” he said.

“We hope to prevent crashes by putting rumble strips on the TYPES of roads where vehicles have crashed after leaving their lane. That doesn’t mean that wherever there are rumble strips there have been crashes.”

Thus, relative to peace and quiet he’s grown accustomed to, Mr. Goldsborough believes, “Unless something is changed I don’t believe life here will ever be the same. I don’t see how it can be.”

The angst begins

The angst began a couple Fridays back when the 45-year-old noticed a road crew move slowly by his home, but didn’t think much of it; he’d seen improvements made before.

The wind blew his way a few times, wafting a strong odor toward him and raising some curiosity.

Another more significant realization soon followed.

“Then I started to hear all these vehicles making noise on the road,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “Every vehicle kicked up dust around it and it smelled like burnt asphalt, burnt brakes.”

Further inspection revealed new rumble strips.

“I finally put it all together about what had been done, but the crew had moved down the road,” Mr. Goldsborough said.

Dust was flying as the crew passed by, he said, and debris remained. The nose bleeds Mr. Goldsborough suddenly experienced afterward have stopped, he said,

“I can’t just get out my chop saw and create a lot of dust and not know what do with it,” said Mr. Goldsborough, a mason by trade.

“If I did I’d probably get in a lot of trouble with someone.”

Seeking more information about the roadway changes in front of his home, Mr. Goldsborough grabbed keys and motored to where the work continued.

He said he approached the road workers, and immediately noticed, “All of them had black streaks under their nostrils.

“The first thing I thought was coal miners and Black Lung Disease.”

The quest for clarification didn’t go far, Mr. Goldsborough claimed.

“I asked them if I could find out more about what they were doing, but didn’t get an answer, really,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I asked if I could speak to a boss, a supervisor, and they said it wouldn’t do any good since they’re all out of the office by 3 anyway.”

The crew, contracted by DelDOT, did have a bit to say, according to Mr. Goldsborough.

“They told me if I didn’t move they’d call the cops,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I’d just stopped in to have a respectful conversation, I didn’t expect to get anything done right away.”

Mr. Neidert said he was not at the site and could not confirm any of the reported interaction between the contracted private crew, not DelDOT staff, and Mr. Goldsborough.

“We ask that construction crews advise residents to contact DelDOT public relations with questions and concerns,” Mr. Layton said.

Taking concerns elsewhere

Deciding not to escalate the building tension, the Smyrna resident backed off and left with a plan to call state Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, to express concerns.

“He said no one else was complaining and didn’t see it as an issue,” Mr. Goldsborough said.

The senator didn’t just cast the contact away as disgruntled nonsense, however, and apparently contacted DelDOT about his constituent’s concerns; Mr. Goldsborough received a call from DelDOT’s Mr. Neidert on April 11.

In a conversation approximated at lasting 10 to 15 minutes, Mr. Goldsborough voiced concerns to DelDOT, which he believed to be receptive. Along with the noise, the resident questioned the environmental risks associated with runoff water from the rumble strip area, along with floating materials he said flowed away during an extensive rainfall that soon followed installation.

“He didn’t seem to have any answers for it but said he would look into it,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “Talking to him he seemed like a reasonable guy; the guys down there (on the road crew) did not seem reasonable.

“I still haven’t heard back, though.”

Residents in the vicinity of rumble strip installations do not receive public notice, DelDOT said.

“No, when we are installing safety measures such as these over a wide area, we do not provide notice to specific property owners,” Mr. Layton said.

Mr. Layton said concerned residents should contact DelDOT Community Relations with issues. The four contact districts include:

•South district Sussex County, Jim Westhoff at 760-2160 or James.Westhoff@state.de.us.

•Central district Kent County, Greg Layton, at 760-2075 or Gregory.Layton@state.de.us.

•Canal district New Castle County south of Newark, Bob King at 760-2074 or Bob.King@state.de.us.

•North district New Castle County north of Newark, Bud Freel at 577-5100 or Bud.Freel@state.de.us.

Questions and comments can also be directed to DelDOT’s Facebook page or by an online form at www.deldot.gov/ReportRoadCondition.

DelDOT urged patience in becoming more accustomed to the rumble strips at work.

“He asked me if I would give it a few weeks to see if it gets better,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I told him I would give it a few weeks before I leave the state.”

Mr. Neidert confirmed the conversation, saying, “I spoke with the resident who had some valid concerns regarding the methods behind how the rumble strips were being installed, and we are currently looking into that process with the appropriate personnel for any future installations.

“Some of his other concerns included noise being produced by motorists traveling over the rumble strips.”

Byproduct of countermeasure

Regarding noise, Mr. Neidert explained, “Unfortunately one of the byproducts of this countermeasure is noise.

“Much of this noise is produced by vehicles briefly striking the strips and returning to their designated lane of travel. Since the installations are new and may be somewhat obscured by the yellow center line, many motorists may be unaware of their presence until the rumble strips are struck.

“These ‘nuisance’ strikes are typically reduced significantly after the first few weeks after the rumble strips installation as motorists become accustomed to their presence.

“Keep in mind that the rumble strips are also doing their job in re-directing a potentially distracted or drowsy driver.”

Attempting to learn what neighbors thought, Mr. Goldsborough said “Several of them weren’t home in the middle of the day and the ones I did speak to didn’t have a problem with it.”

According to Mr. Neidert, “Considering the number of miles of roadway on which we have installed these rumble strips, we have received very few complaints.

“Many residents adjacent to them understand that they live on a high-speed rural roadway, and that this action is done in the name of safety and potentially saving lives along Delaware’s roads.”

Overall, DelDOT has installed approximately 200 miles of center line rumble strips, and 160 miles of edge line rumble strips statewide.

Mr. Layton said one resident complaint has been lodged in Sussex County, and less than six in Kent County.

“I am unaware of any complaints in New Castle County,” he said.

Raising concerns like this just isn’t in character, Mr. Goldsborough said.

“I usually don’t complain,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “I’ve had people burn trash around here, dump stuff on my lawn and I’ve taken it away.

“It really takes something obnoxious to me to complain about it.”

DelDOT said its received no reports of any vehicle damage caused by rumble strips, including tires.

Once installed, rumble strips are a permanent part of the roadway, DelDOT said.

“We only remove and replace rumble strips that have been installed incorrectly,” Mr. Neidert said. “If they have been installed correctly, we do not remove or change them.”

DelDOT said rumble strips are regarded as low-cost safety enhancements, running from 18 to 52 cents per foot, line painting costing 37 cents per foot.

“There are not many alternatives that are as low-cost effective, and easy to install as rumble strips,” Mr. Layton said.

“DelDOT occasionally installs raised pavement markers along the same types of roadways, which are small reflectors in the middle of the yellow lines.

“These devices are effective at delineating a path along a stretch of roadway or around a curve, however they do not produce the sound and vibration usually needed to alert a distracted or drowsy driver that they are leaving the roadway.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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