South Main Street in Smyrna reopens to traffic after long improvement project

Workers drop stones into a hole that will house utility wires on South Main Street in Smyrna. After a year-and-a-half of construction, the roadway is reopen to traffic, with only minor improvements left to complete. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

SMYRNA — It took a year-and-a-half, but South Main Street in Smyrna is bustling again.

At long last, the road no longer comes to a dead end and is busy with traffic coming in and out of downtown, just off U.S. 13 near Lake Como.

Smyrna Town Manager Andrew Haines said the road was closed for much more than just road-surface improvements, and even though it finally reopened around Thanksgiving, more work is being done in the area by construction crews.

“The project was not only road resurfacing but also includes upgrades and new infrastructure for town clean-water, stormwater and sewer utilities, and the town chose to bury electric utilities with this project to match other portions of South Main Street,” said Mr. Haines, who began his job in Smyrna six months ago, after construction was underway.

“Further improvements were made for (American with Disabilities Act) access and compliance with pedestrian ramps, as well as rehabilitation of sidewalks.”

Mr. Haines said the project is estimated to cost the town $5.1 million, with $4.5 million in state loans/funding coming specifically for costs for clean water, sewers and stormwater through State Revolving Fund programs.

“There are ongoing sidewalk improvements, but it was prioritized to have the roadway completed and not extend into 2021,” he said. “Returning the traffic access and flow allows the area to return to some normalcy after a year-and-a-half of work.”

The five-block project from South Street to Mill Street included replacing water and sewer pipes, upgrading the stormwater system, removing utility poles, burying utility lines, repaving the road and installing new curbs and sidewalks. The town continues to install streetlights and is removing several utility poles, which has improved the aesthetics of the area.

Smyrna Mayor Robert Johnson said residents are pleased that the project is in the beginning stages of winding down.

“I believe the residents are pretty excited,” Mayor Johnson said. “We’re going to get finished there eventually, but right now, the winter weather has backed some of the things we are working on up a little.

“But now that the road is opened back up, I believe most residents in that area are feeling a little more relieved now.”

The construction work on South Main Street began in May 2019, and the street was reopened to traffic in late November, just before Thanksgiving, which met the town’s target date.

Residents who live in the affected part of Smyrna had to be patient and follow detours in and out of their homes for more than a year.

Only one shop, the Main Street Market, was seriously impacted by the construction.

“There is one business, Main Street Market, within the construction area, and all others directly impacted are residential community members,” Mr. Haines said, “and, yes, all were thrilled to have the roadway paved before Thanksgiving this year.”

Main Street Market suffers during project
Cathy Shaner, owner of Main Street Market at 140 S. Main St., has had to fight through a double whammy — the construction project and the COVID-19 pandemic — to keep her business open.

Ms. Shaner said that after the street was closed in front of her market on the east side of the roadway, her business dropped by around 50%.

Then, surprisingly, when COVID-19 hit Delaware last March and brought along with it many restrictions to prevent the spread, the Main Street Market actually thrived for a bit.

Still, Ms. Shaner said she is excited to have both vehicle and foot traffic in front of her establishment again. The business, originally known as Graham’s Market, has been a Smyrna staple for more than four generations.

“We’re thrilled. It cut business in half for the better part of a year-and-a-half,” she said. “We actually got a slight pickup during COVID (last spring), believe it or not, because we were fortunate enough to get ahead of the game with window service.

“For a very, very short period of time, we saw a nice little increase, but because of the road construction, that went right down the drain,” she added.

Ms. Shaner said that she and residents in the area understood that the town of Smyrna had to do what it had to do to fix the infrastructure problems — and that some would endure frustration as a result.

“Nothing had been done to this road for a long, long time, and I’m sure that when they got down there, replacing everything, that it wasn’t what they were expecting to find,” she said. “When they get done, the utilities are all going to be underground, and there will be new curbing and new sidewalks.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to be before that’s all finished, but it looks great as they’re moving along, and we’re tickled to death.”

The town and the construction crew did install signs informing people that the business was open despite sections of the street being closed as the project heated up.

“Half the battle was trying to make people understand when they could get here and, unfortunately, there were times when they absolutely couldn’t,” Ms. Shaner said, “but we’re hanging in there, and we’re absolutely thrilled that the road is back open.”