The crowd was small, but those who spoke during a Jan. 10 public hearing had several suggestions for state transportation officials. Most called for shorter delays in obtaining permits.
The hearing was one of three on Delaware Department of Transportation regulations in each county under Gov. Jack Markell's Executive Order 36 to review all state agency regulations. Each agency will make a report on possible changes in regulations to the governor by the end of June.
Fewer than 20 people attended the DelDOT hearing at Sussex Central High School near Georgetown.
Many comments focused on entrance permits and the time it takes to get them. Tom Ford, a Sussex County land-use planner, said he has been dealing with the permitting process for 30 years. Ford said in the past it took one sheet of paper to apply for a permit, followed by a site visit; a permit was granted in about three weeks.
Today, he said, the permit application is 14 pages long, each entrance request is reviewed by eight departments and it takes from one year to three years to get a permit. “It's probably more thorough, but in the end it's a much longer experience and process,” he said.
Ford said DelDOT's entrance permits are good for only one year, which is not the case with other agencies. He said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control permits are good for five years, Sussex Conservation District for three years, county subdivision approvals for five years and fire marshal and agriculture department permits have no expiration date. “With only one year, DelDOT is not looking at the big picture,” Ford said. “If it takes up to three years to get a permit and it's only good for one year, that doesn't make sense.”
Rep. Ron Gray, R-Ocean View, who is also a civil engineer, used work on a church entrance as an example how the process has changed over the last few years. In 2001, he said, he filed a three-page application and had an entrance permit in less than four months.
In 2009, the church added another entrance to its parking lot. This time, under what he was told was a streamlined process, it took two years to receive a permit.
Several of those who testified said DelDOT officials should take another look when an entrance permit is needed. Under current DelDOT regulations, a new entrance permit is required for road work when a property is sold, leased, or changes hands, even within the same family. “This has nothing to do with traffic,” Ford said, referring to the last regulation.
Ford said getting a project started is complicated because developers can't get approval from Sussex County officials without state-agency approvals, and it's usually the entrance permit that is lagging.
Ford suggested DelDOT look at a conditional approval system to speed up the process, which would allow Sussex County officials to take action. “It becomes a juggling act regarding the timing of permits with no coordination. I know we can do better,” Ford said.
D.J. Hughes, a professional engineer who specializes in traffic and road design, had several suggestions. He said delays in issuing permits are forcing some businesses to give up, using a project at the corner of Route 113 and Route 404 in Georgetown as an example.
He said CVS Pharmacy tried unsuccessfully for several years to get approval of its entrance plan and eventually decided not to build at the location. Royal Farms has recently opened a store on the parcel, but, according to Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, it took the company three years to get its entrance plan permit.
Greenwood resident Dan Kramer said he had a hard time understanding the delay and the eventual final plan that has vehicles entering and exiting from the parking lot of an adjacent car dealership off Route 404 into Royal Farms.
Hughes said over the past few years, it's become easier to gain road access and do projects in state-identified nondevelopment areas than in areas better suited to development because of existing infrastructure.
Hughes said DelDOT staff needed more training so they have a better understanding of the real as opposed to the paper world.
Sidewalks, paths to nowhere
Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, said he would like DelDOT to review regulations requiring what he called “sidewalks to nowhere.” Citing a sidewalk in front of Hertrich Toyota north of Milford that connects fields, he said such construction is not necessary and very costly.
On a similar subject, Sally Ford of Ocean View said a prerequisite for multi-use paths in front of developments in rural areas with little development needs another look. She said the paths are costly and do not connect to other paths.
She suggested DelDOT drop the regulation and instead create a reasonable per-unit fee paid by developers to DelDOT to use for pedestrian and bicycle improvements in higher density, more populated areas where trails and pathways are needed to improve connectivity.
“Legislation was passed; we fell asleep,” said Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville. “These regulations are affecting people greatly. We have lost control, and the department has taken over control, yet we have to answer to it.”
Briggs King said DelDOT is dictating what people can or can't do with their own property. “We hear too much about what we can't do,” she said. “We are not getting adequate response from DelDOT. We are the ones to have to answer for these regulations. During public hearings we are patted on the head, and they do what they want anyway.”
Kramer said legislation is needed to change the system. “I don't really blame DelDOT,” he said. “I put the blame where the buck stops in the governor's office and with the legislature.”
Kramer said he doubted any changes would take place.
Residents can offer suggestions online at deldot.gov until Friday, March 1.