DelDOT announces plans for transportation improvement district

In a move designed to help the State fund transportation projects by extracting impact fees from developers, rather than relying on taxpayer funding, Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan at the Dec. 8 Sussex County Council meeting announced plans for Sussex County’s first “transportation improvement district.”

The district will be in the Lewes-Rehoboth area, Cohan said, because that area has been identified as the area that would most benefit from the comprehensive land-use planning and transportation planning that is part of inclusion in a TID.

The Delaware Department of Transportation defines a TID as “a geographic area defined for the purpose of securing required improvements to transportation facilities in the area.” The stated purpose of a TID is to comprehensively coordinate land use and transportation within a specific geographical area.

Erosion of federal funding for transportation projects has forced states to seek alternate funding sources. Across the nation, state transportation departments face challenges in financing infrastructure improvements. In Delaware, the motor fuels tax — a primary source of transportation revenue — has not been increased since 1995. DelDOT is responsible for maintaining nearly 90 percent of more than 13,000 lane miles in Delaware, while the nationwide average for states is approximately 20 percent.

Cohan pointed to two upstate TIDs as proof that the concept works. In Middletown, 29 developers were instrumental in funding $43 million in road projects; in southern New Castle County, a similar cooperative agreement resulted in funding for $80 million worth of road work.

Concerning transportation issues in Sussex County, Cohan said, “We have to work together to make things better down here.”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver expressed concerns over whether the new agreements would bring land-use changes such as “down-zoning” or reducing the number of units allowed on certain parcels of land. Councilman George Cole asked whether market conditions would be a factor in determining how impact fees would be levied. Drew Boyce, DelDOT’s planning director, assured Cole that market conditions and land use would both be factors in the assessment of impact fees.

Councilman Robert Arlett said, “I think it is super-important that we have better communications” between county and state agencies where transportation projects are concerned. Arlett pointed to the Route 26 improvement project now under way and said, “Once the first shovel was in the ground, the project was already outdated.”

Cole did, however, express satisfaction with the progress of the work on Route 26. “It’s kind of coming together,” he said.

Deaver, in whose district the first TID will be located, said the Lewes-Rehoboth area is “a great place to start.” After her presentation, Cohan told the council she is looking for “marching orders” from them in order to proceed with the TID process in the county. Cole suggested that the council meet with Planning Director Lawrence Lank before entering into formal agreement with the State.