By Joe Rogalsky
Delaware News Journal
DOVER - Searching for ways to unclog the traffic snarls that
plague Downstate beach areas during the vacation season, lawmakers
said Monday that building an elevated bypass above Del. 1
may be the best option.
Members of the legislative Bond Bill Committee, which authorizes
state spending on construction projects, expressed concern
that few options existed to find a long-term solution to the
traffic issues, especially near Rehoboth Beach and Lewes.
"In my mind, there is only one thing we can do, and
that is overhead passes," said Sen. Robert L. Venables,
D-Laurel, the committee's co-chairman.
"It could cost $30 million a mile, but that might be
cheaper than buying real estate. There is no other answer
that I can see."
The Bond Bill Committee met Monday to discuss the Department
of Transportation's fiscal 2005 spending plans. Fiscal 2005
starts July 1.
Sen. F. Gary Simpson, R-Milford, who represents Rehoboth
Beach and Lewes, said a large-scale project needs to be completed
for the traffic problems along Del. 1 to be substantially
Southeastern Sussex County's population has boomed in recent
years, putting strain on the road system, especially Del.
1. During the vacation season, when tourists flock to the
beaches, the highway can closely resemble a parking lot on
weekends and holidays.
Sen. Simpson said traffic studies show 30 to 40 percent of
the traffic going through Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach is heading
to points south, such as Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island and
Ocean City, Md.
"We have to do something so those drivers do not clog
up Rehoboth and Lewes," he said.
He said one possibility would be to build a second bridge
over the Indian River near Millsboro, so motorists going south
of Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach could bypass the Rehoboth-Lewes
"They would take that because going that way would save
25 to 40 minutes," Sen. Simpson said.
However, the senator said, building a second bridge would
require significant environmental impact studies and high
land-acquisition costs. It also would use up open space.
An elevated bypass over Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach, Sen. Simpson
said, poses none of these problems because the state already
owns the highway.
"We have do something to give us additional capacity,"
"Building something above Del. 1 may be the best way
State Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward III said
expanding the highway in Rehoboth Beach is not possible because
businesses and parking lots are built right up to the road.
A hot real estate market spurred the growth in the beach
areas, but it has driven land prices so high that building
more roads to handle the traffic is difficult.
"Dirt in Sussex County is so expensive now that we have
discovered that the real estate we would have to acquire costs
the state more than the asphalt and concrete, even for small
turning lanes," Mr. Hayward said.
DelDOT does not have a long-term plan for how to fix the
Del. 1 traffic problems, Mr. Hayward said, though it recognizes
something needs to be done.
"I am as befuddled as anybody," he said.
"My problem with major new arteries is that they require
a great deal of land - land that is environmentally precious
to us. I hate the idea of taking what little is left of open
space and turning it into a highway."
Mr. Hayward said an elevated highway is possible from an
engineering standpoint, but would provide poor aesthetics.
"If it is likely the only answer and it is financially
feasible, we should look at it," he said.
While lawmakers and transportation officials seek a long-term
answer to the beach-area traffic woes, a task force created
by the General Assembly has recommended several small projects
to help vacationers reach their resort.
Carol Ann Wicks, DelDOT's chief engineer, said the improvements
are designed to ease congestion at various "pinch points"
along Del. 1 in Rehoboth Beach.
Upgrades include adding a second left-hand turn lane for
motorists going from Del. 1 to Del. 1A entering Rehoboth Beach
and repairing the stretch of Del. 1 between Rehoboth Beach
and Dewey Beach.
To prevent traffic congestion when cars waiting for traffic
lights block intersections, Ms. Wicks said DelDOT has posted
signs along Del. 1 reminding drivers not to block intersections.
Police on motorcycles will patrol Del. 1 and ticket violators
who block intersections, she said.
In some situations, Ms. Wicks said, motorists cannot cross
Del. 1 because vehicles are stopped in the middle of an intersection
at a red light.
The task force looked at more than road construction, Ms.
Wicks said. The panel is working with the local chamber of
commerce about convincing landlords to alter their rental
policies to stagger the flow of vacationers in and out of
the beach areas.
DelDOT's plans to start construction of a new 1,000-foot
bridge over the Indian River Inlet remain on schedule, Mr.
A Canadian university recently tested a model of the bridge
in its wind tunnel. The model withstood wind speeds as high
as 231 mph, which Mr. Hayward said is the world record for
the fastest wind speed. He said the record was set in 1934
on Mount Washington in Crawford Notch, N.H.
"I wanted to know if the new bridge could withstand
the highest wind speed ever recorded," he said.
"The laboratory in Canada was able to determine conclusively
that this is a structure that will be secure."