It was a day more than a decade in the making, as Bethany Beach town council members were joined by state and federal officials last Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the Town's long-planned and, now, completed Streetscape project.
The redesign of a little more than two blocks that make up the town's primary commercial district included the removal of overhead utility lines and the related poles; new lighting; reorganization of streetside parking, swapping angled parking to the exteriors of the street and parallel parking to the median; redefined bicycle lanes; wider sidewalks, free of the obstruction of utility poles; Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant curbs and crosswalks featuring inlaid brick; and changes aimed at calming traffic in an area with some of the heaviest pedestrian traffic in the state.
The idea behind Streetscape arose in 2001, with the Town's beautification subcommittee. Numerous design ideas were floated over the years, with a mixed response from the council and the public. After considering public input on a series of initial designs, the committee did come up with a set of goals for the project:
• To improve the appearance of the streetscape, creating an “entry atmosphere” rather than that of a street just intended for travel;
• To relieve sidewalk congestion;
• To protect the street's business community — primarily through protecting parking as much as possible; the fear being that if parking is lost, the “high-end” businesses would soon move out, leaving the commercial district filled with boarded-up storefronts and T-shirt shops; and
• To control traffic.
But even with those goals in mind, the Town had a difficult time reaching a consensus on what a design should look like. Discussion at various points included a one-lane street, one-way traffic, back-in parking and a traffic circle — none of which garnered strong overall support. The need for a bicycle lane and the goal for parking availability were also hot topics during the discussions.
Without a strong consensus for any of the proposed designs, the project languished until the council in 2008 found consensus on an “as is” design concept that included only minimal changes. In 2009, they requested that state transportation officials consider the project, but it stayed on the shelf as possible funding was awaited.
Finally, in 2011, funding was made available, and the council approved a final design, leading to the awarding of a construction contract in December 2012 and the start of actual construction in February 2013. Work largely ceased during the next two summer seasons and was sporadically delayed over the winters due to poor weather, with the goal for its completion set for Memorial Day weekend of 2015.
That deadline was met in recent weeks, as the project was deemed substantially complete, pending a final inspection on the work and on ADA compliance. A side project included the complete repaving and reconstruction of the roadway and sidewalks in the 200 block of Garfield Parkway this winter.
celebrates collaboration that brought project
The overall cost of the Streetscape project was $2,352,444.04, according to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), with funding on an 80/20 split between federal and state funding, on top of the Town's own contributions, including the $1.4 million cost to move utilities underground.
The number of government entities involved in the project or celebrating its potential impact was evident at the ribbon-cutting last week. DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan, Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, U.S. Rep. John Carney, Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon, state Sen. Gerald Hocker, state Rep. Ron Gray, Sussex County Councilmen George Cole and Robert Arlett, and Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kristie Maravalli cut the red-, white-and-blue ribbon on the morning of Friday, May 22, ahead of the anticipated arrival of thousands of holiday visitors.
Bethany Beach Town Council members Lew Killmer, Jerry Dorfman, Joe Healy, Bruce Frye and Rosemary Hardiman, and Town Manager Cliff Graviet were also in attendance, along with a number of local residents and businesspeople, and even some visitors stopped to hear from the assembled officials.
One theme of those speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was the importance of sharing the costs of infrastructure projects and working at all levels of government to bring them to fruition.
“Our congressional delegation, working with the governor, had found the resources to make this project a reality,” said Bethany Beach Mayor Jack Gordon of the news that finally got the project started. “And that the governor, working with DelDOT, was able to find that match. And the result is what you see today, with the completion of this project.”
“This project is a great example of what we can achieve when officials from the federal, state, county and municipal governments all work together for the same goal,” said Cohan. “We are only here today because in Delaware we have a governor and federal elected officials who work tirelessly to make projects like this possible,” she said.
“The Bethany Beach Streetscape provides a safe and welcoming environment for our residents and for those who visit the beach,” Markell said. “It is a great example of how investing in our infrastructure benefits us all, making Delaware a safer, healthier, more inviting place.”
Carper said he was proud the federal government was able to help fund such an important project for the beach resort region.
“The Bethany Beach Streetscape project used federal and state dollars to make walking, biking and driving around this world-renowned beach town safer and easier,” Carper said. “Infrastructure improvements not only help keep our residents and tourist safe, but they improve the flow of business, adding to the economy. That's what I call a win-win.”
Carney also spoke about the partnerships that made the project possible.
“The Bethany Beach Streetscape project will bring much needed improvements to infrastructure and pedestrian safety on the Garfield Parkway, while also creating a healthier and more enjoyable environment for residents and visitors. This project will be a major improvement to Bethany Beach, and I'm very excited that partners from the municipal, state and federal governments have come together to make this possible.”
Representing the numerous businesses along the Streetscape project, Maravalli said that the project will help local businesses a great deal.
“Garfield Parkway is the most recognized and congested street in the Quiet Resorts. The Streetscape Project allows for better pedestrian and cyclist access,” she said. “Not only is downtown Bethany Beach safer to navigate, the improvements enhance its beauty and uniqueness.”
Killmer offered his perspective on the day that was so many years in the making, saying, “It's like having a baby. Afterward, you kind of step back and enjoy the product.”
of downtown Bethany
Along with the Streetscape project itself, the improvements to downtown Bethany Beach in the last decade have included additional parking in the 200 block of Garfield Parkway, in two lots the Town had used as part of a revenue-sharing agreement with the owner but recently decided to purchase and improve, more than offsetting a small loss of parking from the project itself.
There has also been work to enhance median and sidewalk plantings, construction of a small park next to town hall, public wireless Internet access there and along the boardwalk, replacement of wooden boardwalk boards with a longer-lived engineered product, use of accessibility-enhancing Mobi mats at dune crossings and the addition of changeable signage at the bathhouse/lifeguard station.
Additionally, the Town has removed most of its parking meters, in favor of centralized parking paystations; established consolidated areas for newspaper racks, replaced the boardwalk clock and enhanced the bandstand itself. That caps the larger beach reconstruction project that created a new dune and widened the beach.
Beyond those public projects, the former Blue Surf Motel has been reborn as a combined storefront/condominium project, while the Bethany Arms Motel has been replaced by the new Bethany Beach Ocean Suites hotel, due to open in the coming weeks.