Smyrna's South Main Street reopens after 18-month project

Ben Mace
Dover Post

After more than a year of construction and detours, the reopening of South Main Street in Smyrna couldn't come soon enough for one business along the mostly residential stretch.

“We’re thrilled,” said Cathy Shaner, owner of Main Street Market at 140 S. Main St. “We’re happy as all get out that traffic is moving again. We are seeing a bit of a comeback in our business.”

The five-block project from South Street to Mill Street included replacing water and sewer pipes, upgrading the storm water system, removing utility poles, burying utility lines, repaving the road and installing new curbs and sidewalks. Minor work remains including sidewalk repairs, installing street lights and removing several more utility poles. The project is similar to what’s been done in the center of downtown from South Street to Commerce Street.

BEFORE: Crews work on South Main Street in August near Frazier Street.
AFTER: Vehicles travel along South Main Street near Frazier Street Dec. 30. While the road has reopened, some work is left to do on the sidewalks.

Mayor Robert Johnson thanked business owners and residents for their patience during the construction.

“It was a long process, but the result will be long-term improvements to our water, sewer and storm water systems, and burying the electric lines will improve the appearance,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long time coming but it will improve the quality of services and the aesthetics.”

Business cut in half during project

Shaner said after the street was closed in front of her market in the summer of 2019, business plummeted by about 50%. And that was before the coronavirus restrictions in 2020.

After the restrictions started in mid-March, business actually picked up for a while.

“I think we were fortunate to be ahead of the curve a little bit because we started window service,” Shaner said. “Some people weren’t comfortable going inside restaurants and some restaurants temporarily shut down, but we had the window service for pickup.”

Then when schools closed and construction switched from nights to days, business at the market fell again.

BEFORE: Construction on South Main Street is pictured here in August, looking toward the Smyrna Opera House and Smyrna Library.
AFTER: South Main Street reopened to traffic in late November, and is pictured here near the Smyrna Opera House and Smyrna Library Dec. 30.

“I think it was hard for people trying to figure out how to get here around all the detours – how to safely get here while the streets and sidewalks were under construction,” Shaner said. “Some people didn’t want to go through the wear and tear on their car, I’m sure, and walking through the area was difficult.”

The town and the construction crew put up signs announcing that businesses were still open even though sections of the street were closed.

“They had a gentleman posted out there to help direct people where they could park, but there was no way to avoid the mess it made for us,” Shaner said. “It was a necessary evil to get this work done, but the length of time was harsh.”

Cost of project tops $5 million

Town Manager Andrew Haines started his job in Smyrna about six months ago, after the construction was underway. He said initial work on the project started in May 2019, and the street reopened in late November this year.

“We tried to focus on getting the roadway finished before Thanksgiving, and now there are a handful of things to complete like the sidewalks and some utility work,” Haines said.

The cost was initially estimated at just over $4 million, but climbed to $5.1 million after crews discovered that upgrades would be needed to the storm water system, Haines said.

The majority of the project, about $4.5 million, was financed with three different low-interest loans from the state for water, sewer and storm water work, with the town picking up the tab for burying the utilities and repaving the road from Mill Street to South Street.

The rectangular boxes along the sidewalk are the access panels for the utilities that are being buried on South Main Street, pictured here Dec. 30. The poles and above-ground electric lines are scheduled to be removed.

At the Smyrna Public Library, 107 S. Main St., the primary challenge has been adapting to coronavirus restrictions, not the road closure, said Library Director Kristine Mera. 

“When I started as the director, we were already closed because of COVID, so we couldn’t have anyone coming into the library," said Mera. "We have a lot of people coming for curbside pickup, but they're able to use our parking lot.”

While Main Street was closed and the parking lot couldn’t be entered from that street, the lot was still accessible from South Street and Frazier Street.

“We didn’t have anyone say they had trouble reaching us,” Mera said.

Although people couldn’t park in front of the library on South Main Street during construction, Mera said it hasn’t been an issue since she’s been the director because the library wasn’t open to the public for most of that time. When the library reopened by appointment, South Main Street was open to traffic, but now the library is closed again except for curbside pickup, after the latest advisory from the governor.

Back at Main Street Market, Shaner said the street reopening has been a bright spot in what’s been a difficult year.

“Our catering is down with all the weddings that were postponed and holiday parties and other events that were canceled – some that we’ve been doing every year,” she said. “We’re just hanging on and trying to get through this like everyone else.”

MORE SMYRNA NEWS:After canceled ceremony, town honors veterans with banners at businesses