Report on Route 113 bypass is fair, tough

Gov. Jack Markell recently received a report from his chief of staff, Thomas P. McGonigle, regarding the “U.S. 113 Noth-South Project and Property Reservations Agreements Entered into by the Delaware Department of Trasportation (DelDOT).”

It was not a glowing report.

Specifically, the report said that DelDOT does have the authorization to spend “significant dollars and resources” on developing roadways, but it did not demonstrate the necessary “competence, judgement and diligence” required — particularly concerning land-reservation agreements forged with a few local developers in advance of the proposed project.

McGonigle said that his report was spurred by investigations in local newspapers, including the Coastal Point, and “Those investigations raised serious questions as to whether tax dollars have been unnecessarily and/or inappropriately expended by the Delaware Department of Transportation.”

The report also stated that these agreements were reached without any kind of appraisal done on the properties in question.

“You have to get an appraisal to purchase anything,” said Rep. Gerald Hocker. “How do they come up with what is fair and what is not.”

We’re pleased that the governor’s office did such a thorough job with this report, and thankful that Markell and state lawmakers appear to be serious about making sure situations like this one will not be repeated in the future. The report also suggests that more public input be solicited on future projects than was garnered on the proposed Route 113 bypass — an argument voiced often by local farmers and property owners in our extensive series.

Delaware has long had a bit of a reputation as being one of those “business-as-usual” states — the “old-boys’ network” mentality of certain individuals and companies getting away with more than the next guy. We saw a bit of that at work during the research part of our series on the project. However, this detailed report, and the harsh criticisms inside, lead us to believe that change might really be coming our way.

For the record, we did understand why DelDOT was making the agreements with developers in advance of the project, even if we didn’t necessarily agree with them. The agency was looking ahead and trying to stall any possible future problems when they began construction. We did honestly believe that DelDOT officials thought they were acting in the best interests of the state. And we really do believe their intentions were good.

But this report shows that there will be a new way of conducting business in Delaware, and that’s a good thing. More transparency from any government is good for all of us.