Route 9 corridor cyclists looking for safe Route 1 crossing

November 22, 2013

These days I see Ray Quillen more on his bicycle than anywhere else. Ray loves to ride, almost as much as he enjoys helping young people through the Boys & Girls Club programs he administers. He has long been an ardent supporter of hiking and biking trails in Delaware’s Cape Region.

Ray and I spoke recently at the Sussex County Today and Tomorrow Conference at Del Tech.

“Hey Dennis, we need to do something about getting a short section of bicycle trail completed beneath the Nassau Overpass. A lot of people in the communities west of Nassau need a safe way to get across Route 1. DelDOT’s working on a design for the Lewes to Georgetown rail/trail project. Why couldn’t they do this short section first to connect Minos Conaway Road and Route 9 to Nassau, New Road and Lewes?”

Great idea. Of course New Road isn’t the greatest bicycling road in the world, what with no shoulders and all. But, with some creative painting and use of kick-outs here and there, New Road could be made much safer for use until the rest of the rail trail coming out from Lewes is complete. The entire rail-with-trail project from Lewes to Georgetown will take several years to complete, but the important thing is to catch little pieces here and there when opportunities present themselves.

Getting the section beneath the overpass completed earlier as opposed to later in the whole process falls in that category. There are at least 15 or 16 residential communities either directly on or very near the railroad corridor between Lewes and Harbeson. Of those, 11 or 12 are west of Route 1 and Nassau and are home to thousands of people who could make use of the trail. Getting them over or under Route 1 at Nassau is a big deal.

Geoff Sundstrom, director of DelDOT’s public relations department, gave me an update Wednesday on where we stand with the first phase of the Lewes-Georgetown project and the delayed extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail.

In the process of the conversation, we talked about Ray’s Nassau overpass idea. Sundstrom said he would check with DelDOT’s Planning Director Jeff Niezgoda to see whether there is any discussion around the idea.

First phase work underway

Preliminary work is underway on the first phase of the Lewes to Georgetown project which will extend between Gills Neck Road and Savannah Road in Lewes. Sundstrom said the timeline includes a public workshop late in the first quarter of 2014 to discuss the project, design work for the trail itself to be complete by next April or May and construction to begin in the fall of 2014. “We’re figuring construction will cost about $1.2 million and take about seven or eight months to complete,” said Sundstrom.

“We have the design-work funding in place through the Governor’s First State Pathways and Trails program, and we’re hopeful we can find funds for construction in 2014.”

In the meantime, Sundstrom said, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is doing a survey along the railroad tracks in the first-phase section to determine whether there are any hazardous materials that need addressing. “It’s not unusual along railroad tracks, where ties are treated with creosote and there is routine spraying for weeds, that there is chemical residue. The question is whether those residues, if there are any, exceed allowable levels. If so, some sort of remediation will be necessary, such as capping the soils with the trail itself or some other method, such as removing the soil.”

Sundstrom said DelDOT is also working with the City of Lewes on the associated trailhead that will be part of the new Lewes Public Library complex. “We have to determine where the trail will cross the railroad tracks to get to the trailhead and other issues.”

Sundstrom said no decision has been made yet as to how much of the trail beyond Savannah Road will constitute the second phase of the project.

As for extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail from the Hawkseye community across Gills Neck Road, along the edge of the Breakwater community, and across the future Showfield community to Freeman Highway, Sundstrom said discussions are still underway to resolve a right-of-way issue in the Breakwater section of that extension. The state is anxious to resolve the dispute so it can build the extension and get the thousands of annual users of the Junction and Breakwater Trail off of the curvy and dangerous Gills Neck Road as it makes its way into downtown Lewes.

“We would like to have that resolved by the end of this year and complete the project in 2014,” said Sundstrom. He said all of the design work for that project is complete, and funds are in place for construction.

Finally, he said DelDOT is also looking ahead to the public transit center it wants to build on the former Wright Chrysler property - on Route 1 next to Lowe’s. “We know people will come there with their bicycles and want to make their way into Lewes and the trail system. We are thinking about ways we can get them across Route 1 from there as well.”

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