Lopez, Schwartzkopf recall whirlwind year

Route 1 issues highlight chamber Q&A
Sen. Ernie Lopez, left, and Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, talk to the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce Sept. 24. The two legislators mostly discussed Route 1 safety issues. BY RYAN MAVITY
October 16, 2013

Right off the bat, Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, and Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes made clear that the sort of partisan gamesmanship found in Washington, D.C., does not exist in Delaware.

“We work together. We don’t try to cut each other’s throats. We talk a lot,” Schwartzkopf said.

Schwartzkopf and Lopez stood together and discussed issues such as Route 1 traffic safety and healthcare as the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce held its monthly membership meeting, Sept. 24.

Schwartzkopf said his job as speaker of the House became more complicated because of forces outside the General Assembly’s control, with issues such as gun control, slot machines in veterans clubs, the future of the Port of Wilmington and same-sex marriage taking center stage in the last session.

“The issues kept piling up,” Schwartzkopf said.

The big issue is traffic on Route 1, he said, a hot-button topic in the Cape Region after a summer with several accidents leading to pedestrian fatalities. While the General Assembly has formed a task force to look into how to improve safety on Route 1, Schwartzkopf said he and Lopez are fighting a Department of Transportation plan to install 13 crosswalks and lights along Route 1.

The problem, he said, is that handicap accessible lights require all traffic to stop for up to 55 seconds to allow any pedestrian to cross.

"Which means the traffic will back up tremendously,” Schwartzkopf said. “If people cannot get where they want to go in a reasonable amount of time, they will quit coming here. If DelDOT has its way, it will hurt everybody in this room.”

He said the light at Movies at Midway is an example. Schwartzkopf said many traffic backups on Route 1 could be traced to this light. He said he has made his opinion known to DelDOT, which has decided to seek other alternatives.

Most of the questions from the chamber members centered on traffic issues. Schwartzkopf said the task force is considering an elevated crosswalk over Route 1, but people often do not use crosswalks.

“People are line-of-sight walkers. If you’re on this side of the highway and you want to get to the other side, they’re not going to walk 50 yards away to use a crosswalk. They don’t do it,” he said.

The legislators were also asked about the possibility of a Route 1 bypass leading from Milton to Bethany Beach. Schwartzkopf said the problem is the price of land involved in building such a road.

Lopez said all options are on the table as far as improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on Route 1. Schwartzkopf added that in many ways, the Cape Region is a victim of its own success, with so many visitors coming in, many of whom seem to turn off their inhibitions and sense once they leave home.

“We have to make it safer for pedestrians, but we have to do it in a way that it doesn’t totally inconvenience the driver so that they won’t come here,” Schwartzkopf said.

Lopez, the freshman senator, said one of the proudest moments of his first term was the passing of the aquaculture bill, which he cosponsored with Schwartzkopf, bringing oyster harvesting back to the Inland Bays. He said coastal Sussex County has become the economic driver for the state.

“The crown has shifted. This is the engine for our state’s economic recovery,” Lopez said.