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Dewey, DelDOT discuss Route 1 safety issues

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Statistics show pedestrians, cyclists have had few accidents

Beginning with the four-lane Route 1 splitting the town in half, Dewey Beach has obvious pedestrian and cyclist issues.

"We need some help with safety in this town," said Dewey Beach Commissioner Dale Cooke during a Dec. 17 meeting with at least six Delaware Department of Transportation officials.

The problems, said Cooke, include a stretch of sidewalk where utility poles poke up through the middle of the walkway, inebriated visitors cross the highway wherever they please, and the ends of many streets are dark.

Counterintuitively, though, statistics show pedestrians and bicyclists are relatively safe within Dewey town limits.

During the meeting, DelDOT Chief Traffic Engineer Mark Luszcz said, during the decade from 2005 to 2014, there were 11 crashes involving pedestrians, eight crashes involving cyclists and no deaths.

"These numbers are surprisingly low," he said.

In an attempt to explain the unexpected numbers, Luszcz said, as a person who has driven through Dewey, many drivers realize walkers may have been drinking.

Cooke was quick to point out those statistics might be true, but there have been at least two recent deaths in Dewey's immediate vicinity - in June 2013, Garabed Zakarian was killed just north of town; a month later, Roy E. Love was killed just south.

Acknowledging the accidents, Luszcz said that's why the DelDOT group attended the meeting.

Dewey Mayor Diane Hanson set up the meeting, but was unable to attend. In a letter, read aloud by Jim Dedes, assistant town manager, she listed some concerns.

Hanson said the town is more family friendly, but families are forced out onto the Route 1 shoulder because of utility poles in the sidewalks. She said crossing Route 1 can be dangerous because drivers may stop in one lane, but not in the other. She said mid-block crosswalks aren't well signed.

Luszcz said Dewey has a lot of signage along Route 1, and he was skeptical additional signs would help.

"The signs would just add a bunch of clutter," he said. "Personally, I think it's a waste of metal and sheeting to put up more signs."

Possible solutions

Luszcz made some effort to work with the town. He suggested a flashing beacon, explaining that Florida traffic officials are reporting some success.

Dewey Beach Police Chief Sam Mackert brought up crossing guards. Luszcz said that would be acceptable and suggested guarding mid-block crosswalks, working in sync with the traffic light patterns.

Mackert said in the past, the town tried crossing guards, but he said he was told to stop because it was backing up traffic on Route 1.

Luszcz said he found it hard to believe DelDOT would have told any town's police what to do, but if that had happened, a new day had dawned, and things change.

Following the meeting, Rob McCleary, DelDOT chief engineer, said sidewalks could be widened if the travel and shoulder lanes were more narrow.

McCleary said when he drove through the town in advance of the meeting, there appeared to be six lanes at least 12 feet wide. He said vehicles naturally slow down because of the posted speed limit and pedestrians, which means there's a possibility that narrowing each lane up to a foot would allow for an expansion of the sidewalks.

Cooke wanted to know if the town could repaint worn crosswalks before the next scheduled restriping by DelDOT.

Luszcz said that was fine as long as the town used white paint and used the piano key design favored by DelDOT, considered an enhanced design, he said. Many states just have two parallel white lines connecting points, he said.

Cooke said a planted barrier in the median separating northbound from southbound would look nice and discourage pedestrians from crossing wherever they please.

Luszcz said he suspects DelDOT will approve what the town might propose to alleviate pedestrian concerns, but he said the main question is about who is going to maintain the changes. He recommended the town work with DelDOT as it moves forward, noting state officials would not pay for sidewalk enhancements.

Main issue: Utility poles

As for the utility poles in the middle of the northbound sidewalk, DelDOT's response is that it's an issue with the utility company that owns them, which in this case is Delmarva Power and Verizon.

Matt Likovich, Delmarva Power representative, said in a Dec. 29 email that Delmarva Power has provided service along this stretch for many years before the increase of commercial development. He said some poles alongside lots date back to the late 1940s.

Likovich said power line poles along Route 1 have been upgraded over the years, and many of the poles are now 1980s vintage or newer.

Likovich said installing the existing power lines underground would be expensive and also challenging from a service-reliability standpoint.

"Underground power line installation is much more expensive than overhead construction," he said. "In addition, the reliability of underground power line installation could be jeopardized when coastal flooding occurs during storms."

Likovich said underground electrical problems are typically more difficult to find and fix compared to similar problems on overhead lines.

"That means a power outage due to an underground cable fault could be lengthier than a similar outage on an overhead line," he wrote.

Likovich said Delmarva Power would also have to meet new county code requirements regarding underground work.

Paying for improvements

It appears state officials will not fund any significant project in Dewey.

McCleary said when state-operated roads run through a municipality, DelDOT maintains curb to curb.

"The sidewalks clearly belong to the town," he said.

McCleary said the town needs to approach the county to place suggested projects on DelDOT's Capital Transportation Program, a five-year plan for road projects throughout the state.

The model used to set priorities for the transportation program is heavily weighted toward safety, said McCleary. He said the statistics might not back up the need for an overhaul in Dewey, but, he said, he wouldn't count it out.

McCleary said another option is grant funding; DelDOT's Transportation Alternatives Program, which receives funding from the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Alternatives Program, could be a source.

There's a limited amount of money in the program, and the town would have to come up with some matching funds, he said.

In the case of plantings in a median, McCleary suggested businesses could help defray the costs. He said it would be similar to adopting a highway for cleaning, and there would be a sign recognizing the donation, but it would only be one foot off the ground.

In an email the day after the meeting, Cooke said a major project that has massive handicap accessibility issues on a major state highway should not be left to the financing of a small town.

"We could end up completely negating any rainy-day fund that we now have and still not be able to fully pay for such a complicated project," he wrote. "I honestly believe they have always been helpful, but a small municipality simply can't be expected to handle such an important project related to a state highway right of way."

Community Transportation Funds

Both Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said they are willing to work with the town to see if improvements could be paid for with community transportation funds.

As part of the state budgeting process, legislators are allocated money for small transportation infrastructure projects that need immediate attention. This year every legislator was given $250,000 to spend on projects that fit under the program's guidelines.

Schwartzkopf said ah example could be installing a streetlight in an area of town that's too dark for pedestrians to safely walk. He said the funds could be used to pay for installation but not for the electricity.

Lopez recognized that during the summer months, Dewey's weekend population can make the town one of the largest in the state.

An important point was made at the meeting, that it's not a safety argument, Lopez said, because the statistics show traffic-calming measures are working relatively well.

Still, Route 1 is a major traffic artery, requiring a thoughtful discussion, Lopez said.

Schwartzkopf said $250,000 doesn't cover a tremendous amount of work, especially when used all over a legislator's district, but it can help.

The first step, he said, is for the town to develop a list of potential projects.

Lopez echoed Schwartzkopf's sentiments. He said it's incumbent on the town to do the work on its end, because the legislators aren't going to write a blank check.

Route 1 access to new town property

Also discussed was Route 1 access for the town's Route 1 property, 1503 and 1505 Coastal Highway, abutting town hall's Rodney Avenue location.

Dedes said town officials wanted to know what DelDOT requires for the town to acquire Route 1 egress from the property.

Todd Sammons, DelDOT planning engineer, attended the meeting specifically to answer questions about the town's new property.

He said he was familiar with the property because his family has a house on Rodney Avenue, and he was cautiously optimistic the town would be able to have a right-in/right-out entrance.

The devil is in the details, he said.

Sammons said one detail would be the access point on the concrete median dividing Route 1 that allows emergency vehicles to make a left, instead of driving up to the next light and making a U-turn.

Mackert said there is one of these access points immediately in front of Rodney Avenue now, but it might need to change depending on how any new town hall facility is configured.

"WE NEED SOME HELP WITH SAFETY IN THIS TOWN."

- COMMISSIONER DALE COOKE



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Original Publication Date: January 1, 2016



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