County prepares transportation requests for DelDOT

Each fall, Delaware Department of Transportation officials make decisions on the department’s funding and project priorities for the coming year, and, each fall, Sussex County officials prepare their own list of priorities and requests that they hope will guide DelDOT in making those decisions.

This year, the presentation of that list and a workshop on the topic is set for Monday, Sept. 21, from 4 to 7 p.m. at DelDOT South District office in Georgetown.

That meant that county officials finalized their presentation to DelDOT through discussions during the Sept. 15 county council meeting, working from a list developed by County Administrator David Baker and Chief of Public Information Chip Guy.

Baker on Tuesday said that the county’s priorities feature east-west roadway improvements at the top of the list, including Routes 24, 26, 54 and 404. Also included at the top of their list are evacuation routes, Route 1 improvements, completion of the Indian River Inlet Bridge project, intersections, north-south highways, economic development impacts and alternative transportation.

“Substantially more funding is needed so improvements can occur across the east-west network,” Baker said.

For Route 26, the county plans to recommend completion of the detour-routes project that is a precursor to the Route 26 mainline improvements that have been delayed for several years due to DelDOT budget shortfalls. The detour-routes project work includes the arrangements that must be made for rights-of-way, as well as center turn lanes and shoulder improvements.

Baker also recommended that the elements of the Route 26 project that aren’t already so be made “shovel-ready” so that they could be considered for any future federal stimulus funding. The Route 26 work, as well as projects on Route 54 and 24, were not eligible for past stimulus funding because not all of the rights-of-way had been purchased.

On Routes 54 and 24, the county is focusing on widening and shoulder improvements. On Route 9, the county plans to ask for funding for a study to identify key intersections that need improvements.

For Route 1, Baker said the county is focusing on the heavily-trafficked Five Points area near Lewes, local transportation corridors, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, especially in the area of the Rehoboth outlet centers.

Another focus is intersections and signalization, which Baker said can easily clog intersections with poor flow and poor signals, and dedicated turn lanes and blinking red-arrow lights in some locations.

On local roads, the county will focus on paving – particularly of remaining roads with tar-and-chip surfaces that see more than 500 cars per day – along with widening shoulders and turn lanes. One local road in this area that was mentioned was Old Mill Road in Millville, where re-paving and shoulders are needed.

The county continues to support a limited-access highway along portions of Route 113, which Baker said could help alleviate congestion on Route 1.

Baker pointed to a predicted 30 percent population growth between 2010 and 2025, noting that Sussex remains the fastest growing county in the state.

“Tourism is thriving,” he said, “and that is creating additional demands on the roadways.” He said the county would encourage DelDOT to make essential projects – especially in the east-west corridor – a high priority and to “fast-track rights-of-way and land acquisition so these projects can be shovel-ready.”

Council members on Tuesday expressed concern about the size of setbacks near major roads, which Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she feared would not allow the creation of service roads in the future. Some communities, council members noted, have setbacks as little as 5 to 10 feet from the highway, due to manipulation of regulations.

“That would seem to be a loophole that would be ripe for closing,” said Council President Vance Phillips.

Councilman George Cole said he would like to see DelDOT also improve its bus-stop facilities to help improve the systems’ use.

“The DART buses to the beach, many times they are empty,” said Cole. “The reason is they have these little signs attached to telephone poles in the oddest locations. There’s no benches there that anybody in their right mind would think these would be places where a bus would stop. They need to identify them better. The locations seem very odd. Tourists are not going to find these, and they’re not going to go to a Web site to find them.”

Deaver also said Tuesday that she would like to be able to get the word out to her constituents sooner when capital transportation planning is being considered, to give them time to provide input, possibly including a public hearing.

Also on Sept. 15:

• The council voted 4-0, with Cole present but not voting, to approve the issuance of up to $10.5 million in general obligation bonds for the construction of the Johnson’s Corner Sanitary Sewer District.

Cole said he had concerns about who would pay for up to $1.5 million of the costs of building the system if developers who had agreed to chip in for the costs found they were unable to sell the properties in the current market and defaulted on amounts promised to the county. County staff said they hadn’t seen any indication that the developers would be unable to pay and had financial commitments from the developers.

• Council members voted unanimously to approve disbursement of the full $15,000 of Selbyville’s annual local law-enforcement grant, for purchase of a new police car.

• The council approved a wastewater agreement for Bay Forest Club, a 35-townhome condominium development that will be part of an extension of the Millville sewer district. Construction is expected to take 30 days.

• Council members unanimously approved a $500 grant for Girl Scouts USA for lifetime membership, $500 for the Fenwick Island Lions Club for community services provided and Selbyville Halloween Parade expenses, $1,000 to the Town of Milton for beautification and, in a re-vote, $1,500 to the Bridgeville Apple-Scrapple Festival.