Omar resident and local farmer Jim Bennett has been working for three years on the state’s U.S. Route 113 North-South Study, as a part of the Millsboro-South area working group.
But in the last few weeks he’s made some much-desired progress on the issue, informing residents and officials of the Frankford and Dagsboro areas that a potential Route 113 “Eastern Bypass” could someday carve its way through their properties — and their property values.
Bennett’s discussion of the “off-alignment” option for an expanded Route 113 opened some eyes at a March town council meeting in Frankford. Council members there heard about that option, and others, in-depth at their recent comprehensive plan update meeting — noting its potential to seriously impact the town’s planning future.
And Bennett took that informational session on the road to Dagsboro on Monday night, informing council members, town planners and citizens there that their input was needed by his working group as they aim to narrow down a recommended Route 113 alternative for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).
Dagsboro Mayor Wayne Baker has also been serving on the Millsboro-South working group, for some 18 months now, and he was in firm agreement with Bennett that more input is needed both from local officials and area citizens before state officials narrow their choice for Route 113 expansion to a single “preferred alternative” and lock up the land that it would occupy.
“I applaud your efforts,” Baker told Bennett, adding that he agreed that local residents who might be affected by the potential bypass hadn’t been informed or involved enough to date.
Dagsboro to meet with Frankford officials
Taking up Bennett’s call for an attempt at consensus between the area’s residents and officials, Baker said he would like to have Dagsboro’s town council members and planners meet with their Frankford counterparts in the coming weeks, in time to give some official input at the planned May 29 meeting of the working group.
That meeting, being a special meeting of both town’s governing bodies, will need to be coordinated and advertised per legal requirements. A date had not been set as of the Coastal Point’s press time this week, but was expected to come prior to an upcoming Millsboro-South working group meeting, on May 29.
That late-May meeting is the second of three final sessions planned for the working group. The first is coming up quickly, on May 1 at the Millsboro fire hall at 5:30 p.m. Bennett invited local officials and citizens to attend that meeting, saying it would provide them with information on the options that are currently proposed, along with an opportunity to have some input.
“For two years, I have been asking DelDOT to notify by letter those who would be impacted by this bypass,” Bennett emphasized. “To date, it hasn’t been done.”
“There are a lot in the community who know nothing about it,” he said. “That’s a tragedy.”
Bennett said the official response to his suggestion that letters should be mailed had been to the effect of, “We don’t want to unduly alarm people until we make a decision.”
Properties could see major impact
But by then, Bennett said, it could be too late. A decision on a DelDOT “preferred alternative” would be unlikely to change, and property owners might be facing a situation where their property values are impacted simply by being along the route of that “preferred alternative,” without benefit of purchase or compensation by the state.
An official decision on which route the expanded Route 113 would take would take that a step further, locking up the land from whole-scale development, property owners’ construction or sales, as a way to protect the areas needed for a new roadway whose construction could be a decade or more into the future.
Bennett is keen that all of those who may be impacted by the Route 113 plans — in all their incarnations — be aware of that potential impact and give input on the plans before they progress to a final state decision.
The first stage of that decision could come June 26, at the final meeting of the working group, at which they are expected to decide which of the various alternatives to recommend to DelDOT.
As it stands, Millsboro officials have requested that a bypass take Route 113 around their town — likely to the east — and have little at stake in where the route travels from that point to the south, Bennett said.
Selbyville officials have, meanwhile, expressed hope that the state will choose an on-alignment option for at least their section of the project — keeping valuable commercial traffic running along the track of existing Route 113 and thus benefiting the town’s businesses into the future.
Route 113 options vary in location, impact
The other major alternative to the “East Bypass” — the on-alignment option — includes major revamps of existing Route 113, with a four-lane center limited-access highway flanked on either side by a two-lane access or service road.
This “yellow” route also includes an option for a Route 54 alternative linking a revamped Route 113 with Route 54 north of Selbyville, in a major interchange north of Sherwood’s Holly Kia auto dealership.
A “gold” alternative features a “Western Bypass” of Selbyville — something the town’s officials have not favored. “Green” and “purple” alternatives include a “Western Bypass” of Millsboro — something that some in that area have favored but that Bennett considers unlikely to come to pass. Those two options also include a Route 24 connector, however.
As it stands, the options with the largest impacts for property owners and municipalities alike appear to be the proposed “East Bypass” options, which include a return to the route of existing Route 113 at one of three points along its current route:
(1) south of Millsboro and north of Dagsboro, limiting the length of any “bypass” to primarily affect Millsboro and doing so in the way officials there have requested (designated as “orange” and “brown” alternatives on DelDOT maps);
(2) south of Dagsboro and just north of Frankford, taking Route 113 to the east of Dagsboro and Millsboro but potentially having a major affect on Frankford’s northern environs and the approach to the town itself (designated as “red” and “pink” alternatives);
(3) south of Frankford and north of Selbyville, following at its return to existing Route 113 a route parallel to and to the south of Lazy Lagoon Road (designated as “blue” and “aqua” alternatives).
Both the red/pink and blue/aqua alternatives include a direct interchange between the new Route 113 and Route 26, facilitating the use of Route 113 to more directly access the local beach areas.
The intention of that move appears to be to lighten to load on overtaxed Route 1 as a major beach access route, but concerns have also been raised over the resulting impact on Route 26 — itself already deep in complaints of too much traffic and nowhere to go for expansion.
That third “East Bypass” option — the blue and aqua alternatives — has raised the most concern with Bennett and others living in the area, as it cuts through swaths of farmland, historical neighborhoods and the vicinity of Frankford Elementary School. Those owning property and living in that area could, if the “blue” or “aqua” alternatives are chosen, one day find themselves uprooted by a highway or living alongside one.
And, Bennett said, many of those people are still unaware that a highway might come through the area. He’s aiming to make sure that is less and less the case.
Public input already changing options
With the end of the comment period following the U.S. 113 North/South Study Public Workshops held in Millsboro on March 12 and Georgetown on March 15, the Department of Transportation (DelDOT) announced this week that the two new alternatives presented at those workshops, will not be considered further.
Neither of those eliminated alternatives directly affects the Millsboro-South area.
The two abandoned proposals were designed to link a bypass alternative east of Georgetown with the bypass alternatives east of Millsboro.
DelDOT officials said, “The decision to eliminate the two alternatives was made in consideration of the overwhelming public opposition to the alternatives, as well as further analysis of their potential impacts. As a result, both alternatives (referred to as the “dark blue” and “violet” alternatives) have been removed from further consideration and will not be included with the other Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study.”
DelDOT plans to announce its “Recommended Preferred Alternative” for the Georgetown Area in early May 2007. A similar announcement is planned for the Millsboro-South Area this summer – making public input on that segment of the study vital as the working group finishes its work leading into late June and passes the ball back to the court of state officials.
“The U.S. 113 Project Team will continue to work closely with the Georgetown and Millsboro-South Area Working Groups, concerned citizens, communities and businesses as we move forward with the project,” officials said.
The next meeting of the Millsboro-South working group, again, is planned for Tuesday, May 1, at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at Millsboro Fire Hall, 109 E. State Street, Millsboro.
Until then, information about the study, past public workshop materials, and the “Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study” can be obtained from the project Web site at www.deldot.gov/static/projects/us113, or can contact DelDOT Public Relations at (800) 652-5600 (in Delaware) or (302) 760-2080.
Look for continuing coverage of the U.S. Route 113 North-South Study and its impact on the community in future issues of the Coastal Point.