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DelDOT calls for transportation district

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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Cohan to Sussex: Time is now to plan for more improvements, road infrastructure

DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan says there is no doubt Sussex County would benefit from establishing transportation districts, but Sussex County Council was not quick to jump at her suggestion for the first district to be in the Lewes-Rehoboth Beach area where the most growth is anticipated to occur. After her presentation during the Dec. 8 meeting, the state transportation secretary asked council for direction. "We now need marching orders from county council," she said. "We want to make smart transportation infrastructure investments, and this tool allows us to do them better and quicker."

Council was not ready to take action. "You can march back to Dover, and let us think about it," said Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View.

"I think this is a great place to start, and we should do it in my district," said Councilwoman Joan Deaver, D-Rehoboth Beach.

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said he would like more time to review the information presented by DelDOT. "We need better communication; we need better planning and we need better infrastructure. The question is how do we get there?" he asked.

He suggested council and staff contact Middletown officials where a successful transportation district has resulted in $40 million in infrastructure improvements, with developers paying for 30 percent of road work.

Council members said more time is needed to allow planning and zoning staff time to review the information.

Council President Mike Vincent, R-Seaford, said the ball is now in council's court. "It seems like we've talked more the last six months than we've talked the last six years," he told Cohan. "And shame on us if we don't make an effort."

Districts allow for better planning

Cohan said transportation districts allow for better road infrastructure planning. Two have been established in upstate Delaware, one in the Middletown area and one in southern New Castle County.

The districts - jointly agreed to by council and DelDOT - are areas where growth is anticipated. Once a district is established, the cost of transportation improvements for development can be determined, with developers being assessed their share of the cost.

"Developers would pay a fee and proceed with work in the transportation district with a goal of having transportation improvements keep pace with development so they cross the finish line at the same time," said DelDOT Director of Planning Drew Boyce.

In order to establish a transportation district, Boyce said the county must provide data specific to the district, including employment opportunities, population forecasts and proposed projects. Then DelDOT would inventory existing road infrastructure and do an extensive traffic-impact study looking 20 to 25 years into the future. He said traditional impact studies cover four to five years.

DelDOT would use the data to provide an updated traffic model combined with projected development to identify possible deficiencies in road work. DelDOT would also project what developers would be required to pay toward road improvements.

Boyce said road work needed in the district would receive high priority in DelDOT's six-year capital plan.

"DelDOT comes to the table with public money as well to leverage developers' contributions," Boyce said.

DelDOT and developers will split the cost of road work 50-50 in a new district that covers most of southern New Castle County, he said. All money generated within a district by fees charged to developers stays within the district.

Cohan stressed that county officials must approve each step toward creation of a transportation district. County council will have final say in what the district looks like.

In addition, public comment would be sought on the proposed district boundary, the county's agreement with DelDOT, future road improvements and the proposed population and employment data in the district.

Cohan: Timing perfect for Sussex

Cole and Deaver were concerned that the districts might back the county into a corner. "Are they flexible?" Cole asked. "We have changing trends here in Sussex County. We can change our land-use maps."

Boyce said county officials and planners would use the best information available to lay out what they want to see in a district, but changes can be made. For example, he said land for the Amazon distribution center in Middletown was originally designated for another use, but it was changed to accommodate the center.

Cohan said timing is perfect for Sussex County as it begins to update its comprehensive land-use plan.

"Districts would be a land-use agreement within the transportation component of the plan," she said. Districts must be included in the county's land-use plan, she said.

Arlett said in a political climate with elections looming less than a year away, things could change. "It's not a lack of planning and studies in Delaware over the years. The issue is implementation of plans," he said.

Cohan assured Arlett that DelDOT officials are committed to the creation of transportation districts in the future. In addition, she said, money from federal and state sources is available at levels it has not been available recently.

"This is the right thing to do for Sussex County," Cohan said. "We have a green light from the governor to go as fast and hard as possible."

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Original Publication Date: December 11, 2015

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