The Maryland State Highway Administration has given prior assurances the construction project on Route 22 in Aberdeen would be completed by spring, but local businesses and residents are wondering which spring SHA means.
“I wonder what year they’re taking about, because they’re nowhere near ready to pave,” Brenda Weber, owner of Mamie’s Cafe in the Beards Hill Shopping Center, told the Aberdeen mayor and City Council at its meeting Monday night.
The $46 million project started in 2014. It involves the widening of portions of Aberdeen’s main four-lane thoroughfare, which required acquiring and razing 18 dwellings, as well as building noise-reduction walls and making extensive improvements to the intersections at Beards Hill, Paradise and Old Post roads
An SHA spokesperson said Monday he had “some good news” that the project, which has taken the better part of three years, should be finished by early summer, sometime in June.
“The good news is here is that the project is finally winding down, so we should be out of there totally by June, if not earlier,” the SHA’s Charlie Gischlar said.
The contractor, Allan Myers-Maryland Inc., of Fallston, is working on the concrete medians, creating single-lane closures along Route 22 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“They’re almost finished with that,” Gischlar said.
Business owners, however, said they were told last year that the work would be finished months ago.
At an Aberdeen City Council meeting in August, two SHA representatives said most work would be done by the end of 2017. Tom Briggs, SHA construction area engineer for Harford County, told the mayor and City Council that all work except final paving was expected to be done by the end of the year.
And SHA spokesperson Fran Ward said at that August meeting the contractor would begin installing concrete medians on the north and south sides of Route 22 in two weeks, working from the outside in.
"Once they get them in place, then they will re-stripe and get all lanes open," Ward said.
That work not finished; and the highway also needs resurfacing along the current construction zone from I-95 to Route 40.
The business owners say they want answers or at least better communication from SHA. They’re still being affected by sporadic work, lane closures and a proliferation of orange traffic barriers, which one business owner says deters business.
“If you get rid of the orange, people will come back,” Lance Hersh, owner of Saxon’s Diamond Center off the intersection of Route 22 and Beards Hill Road, said. “The general public, all they see is orange cones all over the place and they’re avoiding the area.”
A significant amount of business for Saxon’s and Mamie’s used to be the lunchtime crowd with employees coming from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Hersh and Weber said.
But because of the construction and potential traffic delays, employees don’t come to their area of the city anymore, Hersh said.
“Lunch is a busy time for us, people coming off the proving ground,” Hersh said. “But if they know there’s a traffic backup, they won’t leave. It’s a time constraint.”
“The bottom line is we need help,” Weber, whose restaurant has been in Aberdeen for 11 years, said. “I look forward to doing business in the springtime and they don’t come when it’s this messed up.”
Hersh said SHA needs to communicate better with the business owners and notify them of road closures so they can notify their customers.
“It’s like nobody cares about us,” Weber said. “I’m tired of coming to work, ready to work, and I’m standing here.”
The lack of business affects her employees, too, who are losing tips, she said.
She took Mayor Patrick McGrady to task at Monday’s City Council meeting for not holding someone’s feet to the fire with regard to the duration of the project.
“Your job is to worry about business because without it there wouldn’t be people coming into town. Everyone is struggling,” Weber said. “What is everyone going to do to help the business owners before there’s a lot of empty shops along with empty houses in Aberdeen?”
The majority of the businesses are small businesses.
McGrady said, “We’re all in the same boat, we hear you.”
He may hear her, but he’s not doing anything, Weber said, telling McGrady he needs to be on top of SHA 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our frustration is shared by you, but they don’t work for us, they don’t work for you,” McGrady said, explaining that all the city can do is be in touch with SHA representatives and ask where the project stands.
The median work will be followed by landscaping work and then the final paving. But Gischlar said that can’t be done until the weather is consistently warmer.
“To do that hot mix asphalt paving, we need 50 degrees or better consistently for it to adhere to the roadway correctly so as soon as the weather breaks we’re going to start on that” which will take two to three weeks, he said.
When it gets underway, the paving will be done overnight, starting at 8 to 9 p.m. through 5 a.m. Sunday through Friday, he said.
The project was delayed from the onset because of utility issues that were found once work started, Gischlar said.
“There had to be a lot more relocations,” he said.