State legislators seek to change Rehoboth trail extension

Mayor opposes going through Grove Park
April 6, 2017

Local state legislators are asking transportation officials to reconsider plans to extend the Junction and Breakwater Trail into Rehoboth Beach.

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he has asked DelDOT for cost and safety figures related to the project, while Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said city and state officials should revisit the route.

At issue is a path into Rehoboth from Church Street. DelDOT has proposed using the westbound lane on Rehoboth Avenue Extended. The trail would go against traffic along Rehoboth Avenue Extended and across the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal bridge, sharing the sidewalk with pedestrians. DelDOT plans to widen the sidewalk on the westbound side of the bridge while also maintaining bike lanes on both sides. The trail, in the form of a wider sidewalk, would connect with Henlopen Avenue leading toward Gordons Pond.

Schwartzkopf and Lopez both favored a route that would use the pathway between the canal and the Rehoboth Beach Museum, through Grove Park and come out onto Henlopen Avenue. The two legislators both said this route would be safer and less expensive. While DelDOT has not released a dollar figure on the project, Schwartzkopf said, “It’s one-third the cost to run around the museum compared to what they are talking about.”

DelDOT is already improving sidewalks in that area; Schwartzkopf said the department would have to rip out brand-new sidewalks to accommodate the wider sidewalk that is being proposed.

DelDOT originally presented two options to the commissioners, one to go in front of the museum and through Grove Park, and the other to continue along Rehoboth Avenue and then veer at the circle toward Henlopen Avenue.

DelDOT spokesman C.R. McLeod said, “While DelDOT preferred the path alignment along the canal, we have been working with the city, council, and residents, and are sensitive to their needs and concerns regarding the project, and will proceed with the recommendation from the community.”

Schwartzkopf and Lopez both said they are reluctant to involve themselves in a municipality’s project, but the trail extension is funded entirely with state money. Besides financial considerations, the two legislators are also concerned with safety issues on a route where they say bicycle/pedestrian traffic will come into close conflict with vehicle traffic. Schwartzkopf said the proposed route sends mixed messages to bicyclists by allowing them to ride on one short stretch of sidewalk but not anywhere else within the city. Rehoboth has an ordinance that prevents bicycling on sidewalks, but DelDOT officials plan to get around that by calling that section of the sidewalk part of the trail. Changing that designation would require approval by the city commissioners.

DelDOT has held multiple meetings with the city commissioners on the project, with the majority of the commissioners voting for the current plan.

Mayor Sam Cooper opposes sending the trail through Grove Park. He said using the promenade along the canal near the museum for bike traffic would hamper the use of the building, saying it would be like building a house in the middle of the road. Cooper said the plan on the table will have less impact on the park. While he is open to other ideas, he said the route should not go through the park.

Cooper faces opposition on that route from Commissioner Stan Mills, who voted against it, and Commissioner Kathy McGuiness, who supports rerouting the extension through Grove Park.

“Bikers, joggers, walkers, and moms and dads pushing strollers should not have to continue on a trail going against traffic, but more importantly coming in contact with two areas of vehicular conflict,” she said.

McGuiness said she thinks if DelDOT were to present a safety plan and a cost analysis, the commissioners could revisit and compare the two plans.   

Like Schwartzkopf, McGuiness said walkers and bikers already go through the park in order to get to Henlopen Avenue. She said the proposed route exposes bicyclists and pedestrians to a high risk of coming into contact with cars.