DelDOT officials address potential country music festival

Representatives from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) spoke to the Sussex County Council this week regarding how the agency manages a large event that is hosted within the state.

“For an event of this size, it takes about a year to plan this event,” explained Adam Weiser, programs manager for DelDOT, who along with Michael Rivera, also of DelDOT, spoke to the council regarding a recent conditional-use application to use 500 acres of agricultural-residential zoned farmland on Hollyville Road for a facility for outdoor entertainment events with temporary camping facilities.

The property is owned by the Baker family, with the application submitted by and proposed festivals to be organized by Cool Sping LLC and Highway One. If approved, the farmland could be used for a country music festival, a folk music festival and a handful of fundraising events each year.

For the Firefly music festival, Weiser said, festival officials anticipated 20,000 to 30,000 attendees its first year.

“We planned that event for a year,” he said, adding that the department had monthly meetings with all those who were involved. “We met with the event organizers, we met with Dover Downs on a monthly basis to talk about their numbers and ticket sales, how we were going to manage traffic, where people were camping, how the parking was going to be set up and what that would do to our infrastructure.”

Weiser said that, because Firefly had been a new event that had kinks, officials started planning for the following year’s event immediately after its conclusion.

“Because of the issues we had in 2013, we started planning for 2014 pretty much the day after Firefly ended in 2013. It was pretty much a yearlong process, meeting with all the major players — that includes DSP, Dover PD, fire, EMS, Dover Downs, the City of Dover and their personnel.

“We haven’t had a chance to do that with this event. I found out about this event in early June.”

Weiser said that, because of that, his presentation to the council would only be based on very preliminary information his office has received after having a short meeting with the potential festivals’ organizers.

He added that DelDOT had reviewed roadway conditions, potential routes festival-goers would travel to attend the event and how those routes would be managed.

“Based on the numbers we’ve seen from the organizer, it’ll be over a five-day period, Wednesday to Sunday — we’re expecting to have about 1,200 vehicles on Wednesday and Thursday, 2,200 to 3,200 vehicles on Friday, and 1,000 to 2,000 per day on Saturday and Sunday.”

According to Weiser, DelDOT has been told that the traffic would be minimal, as camping vehicles would not be allowed to leave before the festival’s conclusion.

“We’ve been told that, once you’re there to camp, you’re there to stay — the cars, as well. Firefly is the same way,” said Weiser. “What you get with camping is also companion vehicles. ‘We’re going to drive the camper down, but four of our friends are coming with us in two cars — where are they going to park?’ That’s something we would have to consider and get more information on.”

Weiser said DelDOT was not provided with detailed information on how festival organizers plan to receive vehicles within the festival, through queue lines. He added that, if those lines are not properly managed, traffic could spill onto State roads and cause backups.

“There are a lot of things that need to occur here that we don’t know the answers to. We’re making some major assumptions as to what this is going to do to traffic.”

Weiser said the vehicles will be a mix of cars, small campers and large campers.

“You’re talking about a wide range of vehicles on these roads,” he said. “One of the things we see at a lot of these events — Firefly is another example — you get folks that they don’t want to camp in a tent. So they go rent an RV, but they’ve never driven one before. So, driving down these roads is going to be entertaining.”

Three entrances to the farm were also reviewed by DelDOT. On Hollyville and Avalon roads, DelDOT looked at how it would manage the ingress and egress of traffic.

“We would recommend two lanes coming in and having a lane coming out for people who go in and realize they’re in the wrong spot, but also for emergency vehicle access,” he explained. “On Sunday night, when everybody goes home, we flip that up.”

Lawson Road would be used as the artists’ entrance and for vendor and stage equipment.

“Most likely, you’re going to have some very large tractor-trailers trying to get in here,” said Weiser. “They’re going to need to widen the entrances. There are some substantial improvements … that are going to have to occur because of this.”

Councilman Sam Wilson said he wasn’t sure if the trailers would be much different than grain trucks that already visit the farm.

“There’s no way that it can work with one dirt lane going into that field,” said Rivera.

“We’re talking a 53-foot-long tractor-trailer,” said Weiser, adding that the vehicles are carrying an inordinate amount of speakers, stage equipment, lighting and more. “This is going to be a little bit more than grain trucks coming into an entrance. You’re talking vendor equipment, and all that stuff as well, that is going to be using this particular access point.”

Weiser said that it would be difficult for DelDOT alone to require event organizers to make roadway improvements and follow their recommendations.

“From a requirement standpoint, I have a regulation that says you have to fill out a special-event permit, but there’s not a lot of teeth in that regulation. We try to do the best that we can to work with the event coordinators, making these recommendations. And generally they follow it. Sometimes we need a little bit of a push for others.”

“I think this body will give you the teeth you need to make this work,” if the application were to be approved, said Councilman Vance Phillips.

Some suggested stipulations were that the event organizers be required to video all the roadways before the event and after the event, so DelDOT may analyze them for deterioration caused by the event.

“And require the event organizers to maintain those roadways at their cost,” said Weiser.

He also added that travel roads leading to the event would also be reviewed, as many access points to the Baker Farm, such as Route 24, are already over capacity.

“The big key here for us is that there is still a lot of unknowns,” said Weiser.

The council must first receive the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation on the application prior to voting on whether to approve it.