Aberdeen business owners and residents want to know what the Maryland State Highway Administration can do to expedite the two construction projects on Route 22, which are two months and six months behind schedule.
And, they want to know what relief they can get in the meantime as they continue to lose business.
SHA recently took steps toward improving traffic in the three-year-old construction zone, and while SHA representatives said they hope they're making some progress and remain open to suggestions from residents, business owners and city officials about easing the disruptions and congestion the project is causing.
"We are trying to do everything we can right now to make that pain less for all business owners and commuters," Jim Ports, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, told a crowd gathered at Monday night's Aberdeen City Council meeting, where he and others from SHA tried to address concerns brought up by the community at the council's last meeting, on May 8.
SHA staff have been discussing among themselves ideas "outside the box" to speed up construction and plan to talk more about them at a meeting with business owners scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at Aberdeen City Hall.
A couple of those ideas were discussed Monday, but Ports cautioned that while some people may like them, others may not.
Once such example was changing the time of road closures and overnight work, which now is being done between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Business owners in Beards Hill Plaza had asked about moving the work time to 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. to give more access to restaurants, but Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson pointed out that closing a road until 6 a.m. could cause problems for Aberdeen Proving Ground employees driving to work.
"That's a perfect example of when you make a suggestion there's push back from someone," Ports said, while adding that 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. may be a compromise.
"Some people nod their head yes, some people shake their head no. We've need to find out what the majority want and how to get there," he said.
Marshall Klein, of Colgate Investments LLC, which owns Beards Hill Plaza, offered to provide an easement in the shopping center's parking lot if it would help with construction.
"That would help tremendously" on that side, Jesse Free, SHA assistant district engineer for construction, said.
Another possibility is making Beards Hill Road north, on the McDonald's side, a one-way street, allowing drivers to turn left to get to the businesses or restaurants, then directing them down Beards Hill Road to Paradise Road to get back to Route 22.
Discussing issues such as those and getting a consensus among business owners is the purpose of Friday's meeting, which any local business owner may attend. Those who can't make the meeting are encouraged to send their suggestions to the city.
"We are asking for creative ways to expedite the project," Mayor Patrick McGrady said. "Maybe extending it one hour means Chaps won't go out of business, maybe Mamie's won't go out of business."
"All these little things add up to be big things," Ports said. "You need to be our eyes and ears on these things."
Robertson cautioned that whatever could be done, be done quickly, since the bulk of the projects are scheduled to be completed late this year (Paradise Road) and by spring next year (Beards Hill Road).
State Sen. Robert Cassilly, who also attended the meeting two weeks ago, asked about periodic updates via social media, such as showing the projects' timeline and some of the issues the contractor is facing, so residents can read it for themselves.
Ports also invited business owners to the daily meetings between the contractor and SHA construction team, so they can know specifically what is happening when and can pass that along to their colleagues.
What's been done
Long waits at the traffic light at Beards Hill Road and Route 22 intersection have been a constant issue, local business owners said.
Hopefully, they are seeing some relief with the adjustment to the timing of the traffic lights, Ports said.
John Vananzo, a team leader with the SHA District 4 traffic, said the signals were adjusted last Wednesday so they run their full 50-second cycle on Beards Hill Road on both sides of Route 22 through lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Previously, the lights were running at 40-second intervals and sometimes would time out, giving most of the travel time to the traffic on Route 22, so traffic on the side streets wasn't getting out, he said.
Traffic should also flow more smoothly through Aberdeen between Paradise and Beards Hill roads later this summer once the two new through lanes are open and ready to use, Wolcott said.
The next step, Robertson said, is to notify employees at Aberdeen Proving Ground that the lights have been adjusted and traffic is flowing more easily through the area, so they should be able to get to the area restaurants and back on post within their allotted lunch hour.
Also, electronic signs were installed last Wednesday along Route 22 to let drivers know businesses are open. The first screen flashes "ALL STORES OPEN" followed by "DURING ROAD WORK."
At Paradise Road, "No Turn on Red" signs were installed on Paradise on either side of Route 22, where drivers had complained about limited sight distance because of road equipment and concrete barriers.
Not everyone is pleased with some of the suggestions, however.
Brenda Weber, owner of Mamie's Cafe in Beards Hill Plaza, said making traffic on Beards Hill Road one way, even temporarily, is a "horrible idea."
Her lunchtime business, she said, is down 50 percent. Before this project started, her business was "booming, absolutely booming. And now sometimes I wonder how I will make my payroll," she said. "So far tonight I have seen nothing to help any of us. It's just a lot of talk."
Mike Venanzi, of The Greene Turtle, asked if the businesses who are suffering can get any type of tax break, which Ports said was not an option.
"People like me pay the price, people right here pay the price," Venanzi said. "All we're asking for is solutions."