DelDOT reveals impact study on controversial Route 113 bypass project
The public can finally see the possible impacts of a proposed Route 113 bypass and make their opinions known, as the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) last week released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the project for public comment until Oct. 4.
After a final statement is written, official designs can begin for the U.S. 113 North/South Study, Millsboro-South Area — a bypass running from Millsboro to Selbyville.
State lawmakers in 2000 had ordered a feasibility study on possible improvements to Route 113 that would alleviate the growing congestion between Milford and the Maryland-Delaware border.
DelDOT has since chosen the “Blue Alternative” as their “Recommended Preferred Alternative,” which would build a bypass just east of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford, and make some existing portions of Route 113 in Selbyville into the same kind of limited-access highway. The alternate highway would begin to resemble highways outside of Sussex County, with on-ramps and entry/exit access limited to only certain points.
The DEIS released last week also includes data for other proposed alternatives, including shorter bypasses east and west of Route 113.
Read the Route 113 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for yourself:
Get a free copy of the document on CD-ROM, by calling DelDOT Public Relations at (302) 760-2080
In person at: DelDOT headquarters, 800 Bay Road, Dover; DelDOT South District Administration Building, 23697 Dupont Boulevard, Georgetown; Federal Highway Administration, DelMar Division, 1201 College Park Drive, Suite 102, Dover; Millsboro Town Hall; Millsboro Public Library; Dagsboro Town Hall; Frankford Town Hall; Frankford Public Library; Selbyville Town Hall; or Selbyville Public Library.
Written comments from the public must be submitted by Oct. 4 at the DelDOT website or sent to DelDOT Public Relations; P.O. Box 778; Dover, DE 19903.
Or attend a public hearing to make a public or private statement:
• Wednesday, Sept. 18, Millsboro Civic Center, 4-8 p.m. (comments begin at 6 p.m.)
• Thursday, Sept. 19, Selbyville Fire Hall, 4-8 p.m. (comments begin at 6 p.m.)
In the Blue Alternative, the new highway would begin just north of Millsboro’s Route 20, branching eastward from the existing Route 113; cross two branches of the Millsboro Pond; sprout a large off-ramp to Route 30 (with realignment of Gravel Hill Road); cut down toward Route 24, east of Mountaire and Swan Creek; cross the Indian River; continue fairly straight before curving just south of Indian River High School; pass east of G.W. Carver Academy (formerly Frankford Elementary); follow the border of some farmland and wooded land, angle out when crossing Gum Road; and swing back up to rejoin the highway just south of Lazy Lagoon Road in Frankford.
Connecting roads would also get a facelift to meet the bypass, including Routes 24, 26 and 54. It would include six full interchanges, nine overpasses and five surface-water crossings.
The DEIS is required for the U.S. 113 North/South Study to be eligible for federal funding. Funding has not been specifically allocated for the Route 113 project, although money has been spent to reserve land in deals that DelDOT made under former Secretary Carolann Wicks. Wicks was one of the DelDOT officials who resigned amidst the public outcry after the deals paying landowners to leave their property undeveloped, without using official appraisals or contracts, were revealed by the Coastal Point. Some DelDOT officials were also fired as a result.
Gov. Jack Markell subsequently halted discussions of the Route 113 bypass.
Today, under new Secretary Shailen Bhatt, DelDOT is moving toward formal condemnation to acquire Patriot’s Landing near Millsboro. After paying the developer funds (which will be used toward a final settlement), DelDOT and Patriot’s Landing must work to agree on a final price. Bhatt said that, regardless of the final Route 113 alternative, DelDOT will likely need that entire property to build.
At 16.5 miles long, the Blue Alternative is the most complex of the proposed routes, affecting 1,084 acres of land and costing between $687 million and $839 million.
Route 113 is troublesome because it’s packed with homes and businesses common to a small area, but it’s also flooded with traffic, serving as a central artery of the Sussex County highway system. People are turning into driveways and sweeping though towns toward destinations across Delmarva, with that large volume only expected to increase. Summer traffic increases the year-round volume by 60 percent — a rate that could remain the same, due to growth on the proposed bypass.
When considering multiple routes, the DEIS compares cost, property acquisition, wetlands, historical features, noise and the overall ability to meet the public need.
The Blue Alternative would affect 71 total properties — 52 residential, 10 commercial and nine agricultural. That’s on the lower end as far as residential and commercial property when compared to the impact of other alternatives, but on the higher end for agricultural impact.
It affects one school (Indian River High School) and a church (Dagsboro Gospel Fellowship), as well as two cemeteries, but no libraries and no emergency service facilities. The Blue Alternative would also relocate the fewest number of families.
However, it would impact more agricultural land and forests.
Still, it may be another 15 or 20 years before the project is fully designed, Bhatt said. Segments may only be built as funding becomes available and DelDOT monitors traffic growth.
Legislators: Bypass is dead south of Millsboro
Amidst the release of the DEIS the controversy that has followed the project from the start has once again erupted, with citizens who thought the project dead — at least south of Millsboro — and who wanted it so now prepared to fight it once again.
DelDOT officials, meanwhile, are asserting that the entire project must be approved before funding for any of it can be obtained, and they’re preparing to visit local towns in order to spread the information to the public.
Starting with Dagsboro on Aug. 26, Delaware Department of Transportation officials are attending town council meetings from Millsboro to Selbyville, as well as a Sussex County Council meeting, to encourage all residents to share their opinions at upcoming hearings on the Route 113 bypass proposal.
Citizens are already responding to the DEIS, which studied the pros and cons of five options for a limited-access highway.
“If anything is ever to get built, this document has to be approved,” said Bryan Behrens, the new project manager for the bypass, of the DEIS.
If it moves forward, the federal government would pay for 80 percent of the major highway project, but they require DelDOT to complete a draft, hold public hearings and complete a Final Environmental Impact Statement before they’ll consider anything.
But strong opposition exists to any bypass south of Millsboro, particularly as proposed. At last week’s meeting on the environmental study, state Rep. John Atkins stopped Behrens immediately to say, “Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville are not on the table.”
Two weeks earlier, Atkins and Sussex County’s other legislators had met with DelDOT to discuss the project, which had been halted for several years after the public outcry.
“We were told you have to show the entire route to get money for Millsboro,” Atkins said.
“You’re right,” Behrens said.
If the project is approved, Millsboro would be considered the first “priority” for building, because traffic bottlenecks heavily on Route 113 at Route 24. Each leg of the project still needs approval from the state legislature and funding.
“This is a long-term thing. We understand [that some areas are more] supported” than others, said Andrew Bing of Kramer & Associates.
However, Behrens stopped short of saying anything was off the table.
“We have to show it all,” he said. “We [DelDOT] were tasked to finish this.”
“From a practical perspective, there is no time frame,” said spokesperson Geoff Sundstrom.
“We’re talking years and years away, even the parts we want,” said DelDOT project manager George Spadafino.
“You plan today for tomorrow. Nothing gets built today. Today is not the issue,” Bing said. “History shows in Delaware, [if you] do not plan, do not protect things, the impact becomes greater and greater.
“We want everyone to understand the process. I hope you all will come to a public hearing … for stakeholders to say whatever they want,” Bing said. “We have to complete this [document] for the entire corridor. If we took anything out, the feds would say, ‘See ya.’”
To restart the process with a design members of the public who attended last week’s meeting favored — a bypass near Millsboro and on-alignment improvements south of Millsboro — DelDOT representatives said the process would take years to clear the federal government.
If there is no political support for a bypass south of Millsboro now, Bing said, the State could reconsider it in 20 years, or 20 years after that, “but at least there’s a corridor protected if the time comes.”
“There’s still a corridor,” resident Paul Parsons criticized, adding that property values would decrease with the threat of a possible bypass. Three of his four family farms would be sliced up by the Blue Alternative.
“Not while I’m alive,” said state Sen. Gerald Hocker, who promised to vote against a bypass south of Millsboro.
“What about my children and grandchildren?” Parsons asked.
People would be in “limbo” for another 30 years, said Jim Bennett, another farmer and vocal opponent of the proposed bypass south of Millsboro.
DelDOT begins public information campaign
DelDOT has planned a mass “ZIP code mailing” to notify affected residents of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and public hearings.
“If you’re going to take someone’s home, the least you could do is knock on their door,” said Bennett’s son Henry.
“That’s why we’re here today,” said Spadafino.
People can also view the nearly-300-page document at libraries and town halls in Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford and Selbyville and at DelDOT offices. Public comments can be made online and by mail until Oct. 4.
People can also learn more and offer comment at either of the public meetings scheduled, Sept. 18 at Millsboro Civic Center and Sept. 19 at Selbyville Fire Hall. Information sessions begin at 4 p.m., and people can make public or private comments on the record beginning at 6 p.m. and ending when the last person finishes.
“Every comment counts the same,” said Bing. Signed petitions will be accepted, he noted, adding, “Feedback helps us in a qualitative way.”
“You must get there to squash this,” Bennett’s wife, Carrie, told her neighbors.
One man suggested Millsboro build a toll road and leave the federal government out of the project.
“If we expect one penny of federal money, we need this,” said Spadafino.
“At any time in a project of this size, we want the ability to use federal funds,” Bing said.
“I feel discouraged, because it’s three years later and nothing has changed,” said Carrie Bennett.
Hocker said he felt DelDOT got “completely off-track from the intent” of his predecessor’s original request in 2001, when then-Sen. George Bunting led the state legislature to request the highway study as a first stage to developing a concept for improvements.
“There are certain areas people need and do want. We have been assured by the governor and Secretary [of DelDOT]” that the bypass would not progress south of Millsboro, said Hocker. “There is no funding south of Millsboro. We OK’ed [the area] that needs it desperately. But to get federal money, it’s got to go this far. … If it goes south of Millsboro, it is to stay on-alignment,” he asserted.
After a Final Environmental Impact Statement is published, designing the highway would be a five-year process. After that, it could be another 10 years before the northern bypass is constructed. Any work south of Millsboro seems to be a matter of “when” and “if.” But the reappearance of the existing Blue Alternative, with the southern portion intact, comes as an unwelcome resurrection to those who thought, and hoped, that section was dead and buried.
“I feel a little misled. When I left two weeks ago, I was under impression this part was dead,” said Atkins.
“We were told that pretty plainly,” Hocker said.
Hocker recommended that each affected town have its council take an official position on the project. Dagsboro Mayor Patti Adams said her town has not made an official statement, but they plan to.
“We’ve got concerns, but [a southern bypass] is never going to be funded by the state legislature,” Hocker said afterward. “We told them keep it online, south.”
The DelDOT representatives encouraged everyone to officially share their opinions at the upcoming public hearings, to help guide the State in the decision-making process.
In addition to the public hearings on Sept. 18 and 19, written comments from the public and Environmental Resource and Regulatory Agencies will be considered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Comments must be submitted by Oct. 4 via the DelDOT website or sent to DelDOT Public Relations; P.O. Box 778; Dover, DE 19903. For more information, contact DelDOT Public Relations at (302) 760-2080.
To view the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, visit www.deldot.gov/information/projects/us113, request a free CD by calling DelDOT Public Relations or view it in the following locations: DelDOT headquarters, 800 Bay Road in Dover; DelDOT South District Administration Building at 23697 Dupont Boulevard in Georgetown; FHWA, DelMar Division, at 1201 College Park Drive, Suite 102, Dover; Millsboro Town Hall; Millsboro Public Library; Dagsboro Town Hall; Frankford Town Hall; Frankford Public Library; Selbyville Town Hall; and Selbyville Public Library.