The roads in Millsboro have worse congestion than a housekeeper with a dust allergy. Traffic practically crawls during rush hour and all summer long.
The Delaware Department of Transportation’s first proposal to improve that traffic — a brand new, 16.5-mile highway — was heartily shot down by the public in 2013. But DelDOT’s new ideas produced a more soothing effect at a public workshop on Oct. 14.
“We listened to what the public had to say two years ago at the public hearings, and we’re no longer pursuing the Blue Alternative, which is the eastern bypass,” said DelDOT Project Manager Bryan Behrens. “We’re focusing on on-alignment, which means remaining on where 113 is today and providing a third lane, and also providing” a connector between Routes 113 and 24.”
That proposal is called the “Modified Yellow Alternative,” hearkening back to the original on-alignment option.
It costs 85 percent less. It disturbs fewer bodies of water. It requires a fraction of the original relocations. But it is still expected to alleviate north-south traffic, as well as east-west traffic.
The concept has not changed since it was first introduced at an April public meeting.
North of Millsboro, the 2.75-mile connector bypass would begin on Route 113, just north of the Route 20 intersection, between Betts Pond and Sheep Pen Ditch.
Two new bridges would cross Millsboro Pond, still cutting the nose off Sweetwater Pointe, curving closer to Millsboro and meeting Hollyville Road and Route 24 as a four-way intersection.
Route 113 would expand to three lanes on each side, for about 3 miles, from the bypass north of Millsboro to the southern intersection at Dagsboro Road/Handy Road. DelDOT would adjust or eliminate some median crossovers not controlled by a traffic signal. Most of the median would be used to create that third lane on each side.
DelDOT would also do as-needed improvements from Millsboro to Selbyville.
There are no additional planned improvements for downtown Millsboro.
Public reactions to the Yellow Route
Public reaction to the new plan is already less heated than it was in 2013, when people worried about the impact of a four-lane, limited-access highway resembling Route 1 in Kent County. It would have followed a similar route to the new bypass, as well as continuing east of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford before reconnecting to the existing highway in Selbyville.
Residents Mike and Karen Glancey said last week that the new project looked good, if ambitious. Currently using Betts Pond Road to access Route 24, they’d have a much easier time with a bypass.
“It’s crazy down here in summertime,” Karen Glancey said of the tourist season, which she said seems longer each year. “I think this is better.”
“It’s good they’re having all this discussion,” Mike Glancey said. “I think the town of Millsboro, it needs a bypass for sure.
She suggested that Millsboro design a village square for business owners who may be concerned about a potential loss of business due to a bypass. She suggested a central, downtown district with bricked streets. In her vision, parking would be at the outskirts of the pedestrian-friendly village square.
Industrial trucks that crawl through downtown Millsboro (like everyone else) wouldn’t be required to use the bypass, but DelDOT staff said they couldn’t imagine trucks opting for the slower route.
Officials in April estimated that 60 properties would be affected, with six relocations. However, the design is still in flux, especially where the bypass connects to Route 24.
The estimated total cost would be $100 million (of which the federal government would pay a significant portion), significantly less than the $800 million Blue Route.
DelDOT originally preferred the “Blue Alternative” published in September of 2013 in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). But the public and local legislators hammered the idea, so DelDOT reevaluated the plan with the federal government, which would have given the next round of approvals.
While Millsboro officials welcomed anything to alleviate traffic congestion, those from areas to the south vocally decried the Blue Route.
Old Blue Route maps weren’t even on display this month, as DelDOT distanced itself from the scrapped idea.
“We’re moving forward with what we think people want the most,” said Michael Simmons, DelDOT assistant director of Transportation Solutions “I just hope everyone gets the message that we had an alternative a couple years ago. It was pretty big. … We heard loud and clear what their concerns were.”
“I admit they had to do something,” said resident Linda Dolan, although she said she’s still concerned about the impact to Betts Pond wildlife. “I think they’ve done a good job. … They did listen to comments as much as they probably could.”
A loose timeline
Still working from aerial maps, DelDOT has a long way to go and no defined timeline. With many variables, construction could possibly begin in 10 years. The project could rate highly in safety and traffic efficiency, ranking it higher in DelDOT’s to-do list.
If the General Assembly votes to fund the project (which several legislators had vowed not to do for the Blue Route), detailed land surveys could begin in the 2017 fiscal year. Designs and land acquisitions could take another several years apiece.
DelDOT is still in the concept phase of the plan, although people are still being invited to comment. Possibly by the spring of 2016, DelDOT will have recorded all of the road impacts in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Then, an official public hearing will be scheduled. The Federal Highway Administration must then approve the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and give a Record of Decision (ROD).
Then design could officially begin.
The Millsboro-South information can be found at www.deldot.gov/information/projects/us113. Information boards from the Oct. 14 public meeting were posted online, too.
DelDOT is encouraging anyone who lives, works or travels the Route 113 corridor to stay informed.
The public may submit comments until Nov. 30. Write to DelDOT Community Relations; P.O. Box 778; Dover, DE 19903, call (302) 760-2080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.