DelDOT: Route 113 bypass project will impact most of our area

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The U.S. Route 113 North/South Study (according to DelDOT Project Manager Monroe Hite, III, the terms “project” and “study” can be used interchangeably in this case) is an approximately 35-mile-long stretch of highway similar to, but west of, the existing Route 1, that is designed to alleviate congestion and help to deal with growth in Sussex County.

It began with a feasibility study in 1999, prepared by DelDOT in association with Sussex County, as an answer to state Sen. George H. Bunting Jr.’s Senate Resolution 20, which called on DelDOT to determine the feasibility of a new north-south limited-access highway in Sussex County.

According to the study, the department in 1998 completed its plan to develop a program to convert the State Route 1 corridor from Dover Air Base to Nassau to limited access, over time. They also had a plan for U.S. Route 13 from Camden to the Maryland border, to support economic development along that route by way of frontage roads and improved signal timing and coordination, which was scheduled for completion in 2001.

They also stated that they had a plan for corridor preservation between Milford and the state line that was scheduled to begin in 2001, and stated that “that schedule and the scope of the corridor preservation effort may change upon publication of this report.”

The study stated that “the first step was to determine whether U.S. Route 13 or U.S. Route 113 should be the focus of further work. … The current plan to balance mobility and safety on U.S. Route 13 with sound economic development has a broad base of support with the County and the municipalities. Furthermore, Maryland’s funding efforts are focused on converting U.S. Route 113 to limited access as far north as Selbyville.

“Finally, completion of limited-access SR 1 as far south as Dover Air Force Base and adoption of the SR 1 corridor capacity preservation plan have established the Dover-to-Milford corridor as the north-south route of choice in southern Kent County. In light of these facts, the working group decided to focus on the U.S. Route 113 corridor.”

Their final recommendations included changing the Corridor Capacity Preservation Program for U.S. Route 113 into its own project, “with an emphasis on converting the existing alignment into a limited-access facility.”

The report also stated that “should the study of the conversion of existing U.S. Route 113 to limited access determine the need to look at alternate corridors because of economic impacts between Georgetown and the Delaware state line, the following corridors should be considered: Corridor 113-C, with an eastern bypass of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford, and Corridor 113-C, with a western bypass of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford.”

That feasibility study was the beginning of the U.S. Route 113 North/South Study as it is known today.

The feasibility study was completed in July of 2001, and Hite explained that, in 2003, money was placed in the budget to start the process of the U.S. Route 113 North/South Study for “corridor preservation” or determining the route the future road will take.

After the necessary environmental document – the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) – which is scheduled to be out this December, is published and accepted, there will be a Record of Decision, and then the project would go into full design.

Hite explained that project funding can come based on input from staff members and others, but, ultimately, is it reviewed by the state’s bond bill committee. In 2003, $10 million was placed in the six-year Capital Transportation Program, which is funded by the Transportation Trust Fund, to start the process of gathering environmental and socio-economic information, conducting surveys, etc. To date, they have spent approximately $14 million on the study, he said.

In October of 2003, DelDOT had its first public workshop to kick-off public participation in the U.S. Route 113 North-South Study and in February of 2004, then-DelDOT Secretary Nathan Hayward announced the working group members, who included community and civic leaders, business owners, farmers, property owners, users of U.S. Route 113 and representatives from county and local governments.

Challenges with such a long-term project have been that people come and go, Hite said, and some have even passed on – but, for the most part, there has been representation from each of those stakeholder groups since the beginning.

Hite explained that, early on in the process, DelDOT had persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, DNREC, the State Historic Preservation Office and the FHA that looking at the different areas of the U.S. Route 113 corridor would make more sense, as they each pose their own unique issues and circumstances.

“That was really win-win for us,” he explained. “It was a huge accomplishment because Georgetown has different problems than Millsboro … and we won’t be tied to doing construction in a particular order.”

Originally, the area from Georgetown south was one area, but the final areas were divided into four separate and distinct sections: Milford, Ellendale, Georgetown and Millsboro-south (which includes Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville, to the state line).

DelDOT has continued to hold workshops concerning the separate project areas. Over time, they gathered public comments, as well as input from the four working groups and government and environmental agencies, conducting aerial and ground surveys in the summer of 2005, and gathered traffic count information – all with the ultimate goal of analyzing which alternatives should be kept for further study and which should be dropped from consideration.

In 2006, the preferred alternative for Ellendale was recommended and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this area was just recently published. Also, in May of 2006, the refined “Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study” was to be presented in Georgetown, which will then be used to assist in that DEIS.

Both areas are focused on “on-alignment,” or upgrading existing Route 113. For example, at present-day signalized or unsignalized intersections, in the future there will be overpasses, according to Hite.

Also, in 2007, the study ended for further evaluation in Milford/Lincoln area because of lack of consensus among community leaders.

The State of Delaware held its seventh round of public workshops regarding the Millsboro-South portion of the study in March and April of 2007 and eliminated two alternatives that were designed to link the bypass alternative east of Georgetown and the bypass east of Millsboro because of “overwhelming public opposition and potential impacts.”

Those alternatives – known as the “dark blue” and “violet” alternatives – were then dropped from consideration. Over time, other alternatives have been discussed and dropped for various reasons.

Throughout the process, the range of alternatives for DelDOT has always been modifications to existing Route 113, new highway segments to the east or west of Route 113, or a “no build” alternative with the goals of “mobility for local residents and businesses; developing transportation improvements that reduce congestion and accommodate anticipated growth in local, seasonal and through traffic, accommodating planned and future economic growth in the Millsboro-South Area, addressing existing and future traffic capacity along existing U.S. Route 113 n the near-, mid- and long-term, and addressing high accident locations along existing U.S. Route 113.’

Through the process and public comments, plus comments and input from the government and environmental agencies, as well being cognizant of the cultural and historical sites and cemeteries and the human and socio-economic impacts, the alternatives, including on-alignment, and eastern and western bypasses, have gradually dwindled to five (two eastern bypasses, two western bypass, and on-alignment). The Blue alternative was “preliminarily” identified as the Recommended Preferred Alternative for the Millsboro-South area.

Hite said that, to his knowledge, DelDOT has never chosen a totally different alternative after identifying a preliminary A Recommended Preferred Alternative – involving minor changes, such as moving a road a quarter-mile or 100 yards,” could still, and has in the past, happened along the way.

The Blue Alternative – which is the longest eastern bypass option and has the highest price tag at an estimated $687 million to $839 million for construction and right-of-way purchases – was identified in May of 2007 as the “preliminary” recommended preferred alternative, but a sighting of a Delmarva fox squirrel near where the Millsboro portion was supposed to start slowed down the process since then.

Hite said officials never did see a Delmarva fox squirrel, which is a federally and state protected endangered species but did find several other rare species, including a butterfly and moths that are quite rare and unique to the Doe Bridge Nature Preserve within the approximately 800-acre Cow Bridge Branch area north of the Millsboro Pond, so they had to adjust the starting point of the Millsboro-south bypass farther away from Cow Bridge.

Matthew Bailey of DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife explained that this was a “great example of good planning and coordination between the Division of Fish and Wildlife and DelDOT to plan around a special and unique area.”

There are in total 41 rare species found in the area of the nature preserve, as well as a diversity of habitat including wetlands and forests and six rare vegetation communities. One of those communities, consisting of about 8 acres, is the Twig Rush Peat Mat wetland, and only two of them exist in the state and less than five globally, according to Bailey. Nineteen of the rare species were found in that habitat.

Listed on the state endangered species list is the Chermock’s Mulberry Wing, a butterfly, and Doe Bridge is only one of two places in the world that this particular butterfly has been discovered (the other being on privately owned property, and therefore, not protected, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland), according to Bailey. The butterfly’s local habitat, the red maple tussock sedge (a grass-like plant), is the only one in the state of Delaware.

Two other very rare moths – the Gray Banded Zale, which is only found in five other states, and a second one so rare is doesn’t have a common name, the catocala ulalume – are, with the exception of Doe Bridge, not found north of North Carolina.

What this all means, according to Bailey, is that while “diversity has a value of its own,” in laymen’s terms, it also has real tangible benefits, such as the medicines that are often discovered and that only be extracted from certain species, and if people start to take away some of the pieces by eliminating others, “it’s like taking away pieces of the foundation of the building, eventually it will topple,” he said.

“It’s a really wonderful diversity of habitat,” Baile added, referring to Doe Bridge Nature Preserve, “with some rare species and some fairly common. Moths and butterflies are a great example. You have to have all the species that they need.”

Because of the shift in plans, and because it had been more than two years since a public meeting was held, DelDOT held another round of workshops in May of this year.

The Blue Alternative of the Millsboro-South portion of the U.S. Route 113 study begins north of the U.S. Route 113 and Hardscrabble Road intersection. The alternative intersects Barks Pond Road and travels southeast almost parallel to Route 24, going over Gravel Hill Road, Hollyville Road, Maryland Camp Road, Swan Creek and through the proposed Ferry Cove development just east of Mountaire’s facility there.

It then continues south over the Indian River, almost parallel to Power Plant Road, but then stays east and crosses Piney Neck Road in Dagsboro, crossing Pepper Creek and Vine’s Creek Road (Route 26). At Route 26, there will be on- and off-ramps to go either in the direction of Dagsboro, or to the beaches. Also, there will be on and off ramps to get on Route 20, or Armory Road, or people who want to travel through would simply continue on the bypass toward Selbyville.

The bypass will continue east of the old Frankford Elementary School (now known as the George W. Carver Educational Building and home to the Richard Allen school, among other educational programs, but still located on Frankford School Road), and will then run parallel to Lazy Lagoon Road and connect back in to “on-alignment,” or U.S. Route 113, near Parker Road.

For example, those driving down Route 26 west toward the town of Dagsboro will see Ocean View Plumbing’s new building on the right and Murray’s Motors on the left, just past the utility corridor, or power lines to the north (right hand side of the road going west). Hite explained that the bypass will run parallel to those power lines and there will be an overpass above Route 26.

For those coming from Nine Foot Road in Dagsboro across Route 113, there will be a connecting road south of Royal Farms that will dump traffic back on Route 26 east of Armory Road, instead of present-day traffic, which takes Main Street down, turns right and then turns left onto Route 26. That road will still exist, but the new road off of Nine Foot Road will be another way onto Route 26 from the west. Other local roads, such as Gum Road near Frankford and Piney Neck Road in Dagsboro, will tie into the Blue Alternative via an overpass.

Hite explained that it will be very similar to Route 1, or Route 301 up north, where local traffic will either be able to still use the existing Route 113 or use the bypass to stay out of town. Through traffic will most likely stay on the bypass the whole way through toward Ocean City, Md., or will exit at the connector route of their choice – either Route 24, Route 26 or Route 54, depending on the destination, all of which, Hite explained, will be their own project, with their own planning, design, acquisition and construction and would be constructed before the bypass if all are included in the final Recommended Preferred Alternative.

The proposed route will encompass nine bridge structures (six overpasses and three bridges over water) and will have no tolls.

Check back for part three next week to hear more about the human impact of the project in Southeastern Sussex County.