Legislators force DelDOT, state to review

When Coastal Point reporter Monica Scott was putting together her three-part series on the proposed Route 113 bypass project, we all knew there would be a stink about one portion of that piece that focused on payouts from the state to two development groups.

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) decided it would be cheaper and less aggravating to negotiate deals with these developers now than meet property costs down the road, or have the developers build homes in locations where the proposed bypass was designed to be constructed.

Sure enough, other papers throughout the state began to cover that part of the story exclusively, and a whirlwind of controversy instantly began to brew over DelDOT’s practices. There were multiple accusations made that the state was playing political favoritism by only paying off these two development groups, as opposed to all the farmers who also have land in the midst of the proposed project, and a general sense that the state was being, at best, irresponsible with taxpayer monies.

The coverage of the land acquisitions has certainly generated buzz. And, now, the entire project is getting a closer look.

“In light of questions raised about current agreements the state now has with two developers, I have asked my staff to undertake a review of DelDOT policy and process for advanced land acquisition agreements,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “The public expects accountability when it comes to transportation dollars and the rationale for spending them.”

The money-to-developers angle of the story is certainly the most sensationalistic part of the tale. However, it is not the only thing that’s important about it. In fact, the bigger question might be whether or not the project is necessary, at all.

A group of legislators, including Sen. George H. Bunting, Rep. John Atkins and Rep. Gerald Hocker, met with DelDOT last week to share their concerns over the project. Both Atkins and Bunting told the Coastal Point after the meeting that they doubt the part of the project south of Route 24 would go forward. There is “no public support for anything south of Route 24,” said Atkins. Bunting said the bypass project would “end farming as we know it east of Route 113.”

The state is going to review each facet of the project, as well as how DelDOT does business, and expects to issue a report on its findings and recommended changes by Jan. 11, 2011.

We’re pleased that DelDOT and the state are taking steps to at least review the way they operate, and are thankful our legislators have forced action. Now, let’s see what happens.