Traffic issues a major concern with project

In a letter written by South Bethany residents Richard and Bonnie Kemske and addressed to Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, the pair urged the county to deny approval of The Estuary subdivision partly because it will “overload the already crowded roads.”

A South Bethany resolution passed recently addresses similar concerns with the plan to subdivide 742 acres into 1,060 lots off of Camp Barnes and Double Bridges roads. And in an Aug. 11 letter, South Bethany’s Eileen Spangler wrote that “traffic through the Cat Hill section of South Bethany is already a problem, necessitating police intervention.”

Beside possible negative effects to the surrounding waterways and wetlands, traffic is the foremost concern for residents, state representatives and local municipalities regarding the proposed development.

“We’re getting complaint after complaint after complaint about traffic,” Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th) said. “The county ought to look hard at making (their decision) contingent on infrastructure.”

The Traffic Group, the developer’s Maryland-based traffic consultant, presented its traffic impact study to DelDOT recently and is awaiting an official response that should come sometime in December, DelDOT spokesman Darrel Cole said. A preliminary Planning and Zoning decision on the subdivision is expected on Sept. 14.

Because of a lack of funding, and conflicts between Sussex County and state developing areas, though, road improvements will likely be the burden of the developer.

Talking about sewer infrastructure at a recent stop in Millville, Rep. Mike Castle (R–Del.) addressed developers’ obligations when building in such an area.

“If you’re going to develop in Delaware, you have to pay for the infrastructure that goes with it,” Castle said.

“We fully anticipate that they’re going to come to us and ask us to fix these issues,” The Estuary Project Manager Jack Hayes said of DelDOT, saying that Palisades LLC is prepared to fully pay for all road improvements. “There are things that have to be done (and) they will be done.”

Carl Wilson, the Traffic Group consultant that worked on The Estuary’s TIS, said that he worked from preliminary DelDOT recommendations to fix roads, sometimes miles away from the project site.

In the Traffic Group’s TIS, the developer recommends adding another left-turn lane on Route 1 at the intersection with Route 26, which would be built into the median. According to Wilson, they have also recommended a left-turn lane on Bayard Road at its intersection with Double Bridges, a southbound left-turn lane on Bayard at its intersection with Route 20 and a westbound right turn lane on Route 20 there.

Wilson said that the developer plans, if everything is approved, to make minor improvements to Route 20 at Route 54 and to reconfigure the Parker House/Muddy Neck intersection. The stop sign there would be moved and installed onto westbound Muddy Neck, allowing traffic to continue moving along Parker House Road, where traffic would undoubtedly be heavier because of the proposed 1,052 homes.

Under the plan, the straight travel lane on Route 26 eastbound at Route 1 would be changed into a shared left-turn/straight lane and traffic signals would be installed on several nearby intersections “when warranted.” Those intersections include the ones at Bayard and Daisey, Route 17 and Daisey, and Route 20 and Old Mill Bridge Road, Wilson said, adding that if signals are installed before they are needed, they could actually cause more problems.

“Of course there are issues with or without the development,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We try to do a comprehensive study. We’re going to make it operate better than if our development wasn’t put in,” he added, saying, though, that final traffic recommendations will ultimately come from DelDOT.

The state transportation agency is currently performing a study on Double Bridges Road to determine possible need for extra lighting, signage and pavement. Cole said that the “physical evaluation” started Aug. 16 and results will not be available for another couple of weeks.

Cole added, however, that 30 mph advisory speed limit signs will be posted in four spots along the curvy road. But he said that major roadwork, such as the aforementioned, will have to come from the developer.

Usually, Cole said, DelDOT does not comment on developments in state-designated Level 4 areas, such as this one, because the state does not encourage growth there. The Estuary poses a “unique” circumstance, though, because despite the state designation, the area lies in the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Developing Area, where development is — as its name implies — allowed.

“Because of the situation, we do have concerns about the development — not only on the environment but the infrastructure,” Cole said. “We don’t have the authority to say yes or no, but we need to make sure our thoughts are made. No matter what we recommend, there’s still going to be an impact as far as volume.”