Hours extended on South Bethany traffic barricade

Finally armed with official statistics, South Bethany has doubled the hours in which the Cat Hill traffic barricade is in place.

Effective immediately, all eastbound traffic is prohibited from entering Black Gum Drive from Kent Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., May 15 to Sept. 15.

Cat Hill is a residential neighborhood west of Route 1, increasingly being used as a shortcut for beach-bound traffic trying to avoid Route 26.

“We all have witnessed the transportation problems that we’ve had here,” said John Janowski, such as speeding, disregard for stop signs and insufficient speed humps, as well as heavy volume on beach-weather days.

Janowski heads the South Bethany ad-hoc Traffic Committee, which was formed in April and receives advisement from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT)

“What you have is neighborhood streets between the major arterial, Route 1 [and Route 26] and the major collectors to the west [Kent Avenue, Double Bridges Road]. Unfortunately, most of those neighborhood streets are not built to the design and specifications of a collector road,” Janowski said.

“Because of our geography, there’s only three or four east-west opportunities to go from Ocean View to Route 1,” Janowski added. “We are further inconvenienced by the fact that … the shortest path … is, unfortunately, our community.”

Those busier roads are averaging 10,000 or 20,000 vehicles per day, at least (that’s a year-round average). Cat Hill has seen nearly 3,000 during the highest-traffic periods in recent studies.

So the town council voted unanimously on July 8 to double the barricade hours and lengthen the season.

Cat Hill’s citizen traffic committee had previously noted that 5,500 as-yet-un-built homes have been approved for the area.

But Janowski said a 2006 traffic study (done just before the economy fell flat) envisioned more than 9,200 housing units, a new golf course and hundreds of thousands of square feet of new retail and office space. That elicited an exclamation of shock from at least one resident.

“There’s little supply, in terms of highway, and much in terms of demand,” Janowski said.

For instance, compared to the entrances of many housing developments, Black Gum Drive is about half the size and lacks any sidewalks.

But anywhere from 21 to 51 percent of the traffic uses Cat Hill as a shortcut, according to a traffic study from Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. (That study didn’t differentiate on whether the drivers were tourists cutting through or other South Bethany residents destined for homes in other parts of town.)

Besides basic traffic counts, DelDOT has performed speed, volume and origin/destination studies.

DelDOT had another traffic study scheduled for July 8 and 9, on whether the traffic warrants a three-way stop at Canal Drive and Tamarack Road.

Some quick-fix changes were already made to better mark the intersection and slow cars down.

Neighboring Bethany Beach also loaned the Town “the ultimate cup of sugar,” said Mayor Pat Voveris, in the form of a temporary speed hump, which sticks up at a sharp, more effective angle, than the existing speed humps, which aren’t up to regulatory standards.

The Traffic Committee has a full workload for the time being.

“We’ve had three meetings; they’re three hours. I’m lucky if I can get through half the agenda,” Janowski said.

They’re discussing easy ideas that can be accomplished quickly, but they’ll mull over bigger ideas, such as sidewalks or de-annexation.

“I’m not prepared to talk tonight about how we’re going to implement these traffic-control measures,” Janowski said. “We will evaluate, and to the best of our means. We’re not a professional staff. We’re an assemblage. We have guidance from DelDOT at this point.”

“The things that we’re doing now are the low-hanging fruit,” said Councilwoman Carol Stevenson. “Really, the most important thing that we need to look at is safety. It’s critically important that walkers are safe. … That’s not a low-hanging fruit right now. That’s difficult.”

For instance, sidewalk planning and funding can take three years, based on previous projects, said Town Manager Melvin Cusick.

Discussion has also touched on whether South Bethany property owners can bypass the barricade, forcing outsiders to take the long way around. But that hearkens back to earlier discussions: if the road is privatized, DelDOT will reduce the public roadway funding to the Town.

Mike Trentadue said he wanted to erase the misconception that the only people inconvenienced by the barricade live outside of Cat Hill.

“We share the inconvenience as much as anyone else — in fact, probably more — coming down Kent Avenue, seeing your house and having to go around. But it’s the right thing to do for the right reason.”

Even Mayor Pat Voveris, who lives east of Route 1, said she’ll have to plan her trips around the barricade.

“We’re headed toward good things. We’re making progress,” said Voveris. “We want to be sure of where we’re going, [not just knee-jerk respond to] people who are squawking.”

Citizen Dennis Roberts, a prominent voice on traffic issues, thanked the council for addressing the issues.

“It’s an inconvenience for people that don’t live on the path. It’s a disaster for those that do,” Roberts said. For residents, a constant fear of traffic was “not what we bought into.”

There was discussion of lengthening the barricade period to 2 p.m., but the council defeated that motion, 4-3, thereby following the preferences of DelDOT, the Traffic Committee and SB Police Department.

Town staff said they expect police will have to man the barricade initially, to train the public not to enter during those hours. Drivers who violated the barricade previously were fined $25. When police miss a perpetrator, they usually hear about it from vigilant citizens, Police Chief Troy Crowson quipped.

In other South Bethany news:

• Overhead electrical lines seem to litter the skies, a source of frustration for many residents. Although the Planning Commission’s Dick Oliver said to never expect those lines to move underground, it looks like some of them will just be flat-out removed.

Mediacom has agreed to come in autumn and remove some of the dead, unused wires, while Verizon has already begun. Until then, the wires aren’t dangerous, just an eyesore.

• Criminal complaints have been up, but the sol-called “June Bugs” were essentially not a problem, Crowson said of the annual student house rentals.

• South Bethany police officers have worn body armor for years, Crowson said in response to concerns for police officers’ safety after the recent police killings in Dallas, Texas.

• Some people have posted unofficial “Do not block the walkway” parking signs, officials noted. Police said those are not official or enforceable. Drivers can usually tell which signs are not official because the signs are on private property instead of the public right-of-way. People can park there, or call the police station to ask for clarification.

• People who have left their cars unlocked have suffered break-ins in South Bethany and Middlesex Beach. Police reminded people to prevent thefts by locking their vehicles.

Residents with security cameras are also being invited to inform the SBPD, in case footage could be used to help solve crimes in the neighborhoods.

• The beach patrol won second place in a recent Sea Colony Lifeguard Challenge.

• Independence Day was a success, as the Town’s float won its third consecutive Best in Show award at the Bethany Beach parade. Also the town’s own boat parade attracted hundreds of spectators.

“If you missed it, you really missed a good time,” Stevenson said.

• A waste disposal truck broke down, resulting in delayed recycling and trash pickups this week. When this happens, the trucks will return immediately the next day, whether it’s a scheduled pickup or not, officials noted.

The town council’s next workshop is Thursday, July 28, at 2 p.m.