Fenwick Island might not have “a long and winding road” within its one-mile-long town limits, but the Beatles’ song aptly describes the efforts to bring sidewalks to its main thoroughfare, Coastal Highway.

Mayor Vicki Carmean announced at the February town council meeting that the construction of sidewalks along a crucial six-block section of Coastal Highway has moved forward several steps.

Carmean reported then that the Town has accumulated $548,000 in grants and other sources and has since received $100,000 through Sussex County. The estimate the Town had received from contractor Century 21 Engineering for the initial six-block sidewalk construction, stretching from Dagsboro Street to James Street, was $634,000.

She also reported that Century Engineering had agreed to contract terms after some suggestions were made by Town Solicitor Luke Mette.

For Carmean, the push for sidewalks has been a nearly 20-year odyssey, from her first stint on the town council, which began in 2002, she noted.

“Shortly after I got on, the State started this initiative to put sidewalks down along the coastal cities. We had this wonderful open house where the DelDOT people came, and they had an open house for the community to walk around and look at these visuals. They had a wonderful thing where they were going to put a mini-lighthouse down here in a circle at the north end of town. And all the streetlights were going to be lighthouses — they were using the lighthouse motif,” she said, in an apparent nod to the iconic Fenwick Island Lighthouse.

“I was so impressed,” she said. “And then the State ran out of money.” However, she said, “All the other coastal communities got their sidewalks done.”

“I was on the council for two terms, and then I would get off, and then I would get back on for two terms,” Carmean said. “And each time I came back on, I would ask about the sidewalks. Nobody seemed interested in doing a sidewalk down in Fenwick. I think part of it is the fact that we have a small year-round population. It was much smaller back then,” she said, adding that “I think it’s up to close to 300 at this point.

“When politicians look at that they just think, ‘Oh, there aren’t too many votes down there,” she said. “I wish they would just think in terms of what happens in the summer.” During the summer season, Carmean said, the population grows to around 5,000 to 6,000, “and that doesn’t even count the daytime visitors.”

What she has seen, she said, is “people visiting Fenwick, wanting to shop at the stores, or go to the restaurants, or just take a walk at night.”

The Town’s comprehensive plan — its blueprint for future development — emphasizses that Fenwick Island should be a walkable community, Carmean said.

“So people are out there walking, and it’s wonderful, except when they get up on Coastal Highway,” she said. “You can come here any summer night, and you’re going to see people on crutches, mothers pushing strollers, little kids on bicycles with training wheels.”

Finally, Carmean said, about four years ago, “We finally got some traction.”

Although she said she has not been the only person working for sidewalks, “It’s always been my goal to fix that main street. There were times when other council members would kid me about it. They’d say, ‘You’re the one that wants flowers on Main Street,’” she said. “I’d say, ‘I just want a sidewalk.’”

“That’s our main street,” Carmean said. “It cuts straight through the town, it divides the ocean side from the bay side, and everybody comes together here. To me, it’s really important. The 300 or so people who live here would really love a sidewalk, but in the summertime, it really is a necessity,” she said.

Carmean credited efforts by state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) in the town being allocated $500,000 in the two most recent state bond bills.

“We’ve had lots of meetings” with planners, as well as property owners in the six- block area targeted for the initial project, she said.

The sidewalks will be designed to be located right up against the curbing, with a 2-foot “green space” between parking lots and sidewalks to “so that people on the sidewalk don’t get bumped by the cars. Sidewalks will be 5 feet wide and ADA-compliant, Carmean said.

The Town sidewalk committee is now in the process of deciding what materials to use in the 2-foot buffer that would be the easiest to maintain. She said there are some existing sidewalks along Coastal Highway, but they are in need of repair and are not ADA-compliant.

“I don’t even know what century those were put in,” she said.

Carmean said work on the sidewalk project will begin in the fall. She had said at the February meeting that the project could be shortened by a block if DelDOT requires the Town to pay for a new traffic light at Dagsboro or James street.

Meanwhile, plans for sidewalks throughout the rest of the town have made it into the state’s capital plan, with 2024 being the target year, she said. At the February town council meeting, Town Treasurer Bill Rymer said the Town can apply for federal Muncipal Street Aid money for the sidewalk projects.

The council voted unanimously at the February council meeting to proceed with the Century 21 contract, and to use the federal funds for sidewalks.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.