DelDOT weighs in on country music venue

Officials say more information needed to develop plan
This is near one of the proposed entrances off Avalon Road to the 500-acre country music venue site. BY RON MACARTHUR
August 4, 2014

The state transportation official in charge of traffic plans for major events says he needs more information to formulate a plan for a proposed country music venue on 500 acres of farmland near Harbeson.

During Sussex County Council's July 29 meeting, Adam Weiser, Delaware Department of Transportation safety programs manager, laid out a preliminary plan for traffic access to the site, but he said he could not provide information on parking because he was not aware of the developer's parking plan.

“We are making major assumptions here,” Weiser told council. “We don't know what their plan is.”

He said DelDOT typically needs a year to develop a traffic plan for large events. He said planning requires meetings with event coordinators, fire, police, emergency medical personnel and county or state officials. “We haven't had a chance to do this with this event,” he said.

Sussex planning and zoning commissioners and county council have yet to act on a conditional-use application filed by Dewey Beach businessman Alex Pires on behalf of Coolspring LLC/Highway One for an outdoor entertainment facility with temporary camping on a farm owned by the Baker family. Council kept the public record open for one week to gather more information from DelDOT on how traffic would affect the area.

Traffic and road conditions have surfaced as two major concerns expressed by residents during a pair of public hearings. Residents say rural roads in the area cannot handle the increased traffic large events would generate.

Pires has plans for a country music festival and possibly a country/folk music festival on back-to-back weeks in August 2015. He said the festival could attract up to 20,000 people with 4,000 to 5,000 RVs and other campers. Billed as a family camping event, Pires said daily tickets would be restricted to 20 percent of total sales to cut down on traffic to the site.

Pires said July 30 he would defer to DelDOT officials who have experience in managing large events. “We will do whatever DelDOT recommends is necessary to eliminate any traffic problems. They are the experts,” he said.

DelDOT makes plans for major events

It's DelDOT that plans how cars, trucks, RVs and other campers access large events, such as NASCAR races, Firefly and Punkin Chunkin. “We've had some growing pains with these events,” Weiser said, adding for the most part traffic issues have been ironed out.

Weiser said a detailed parking plan would need to be developed to process vehicles quickly on the proposed country music venue site to prevent backups on access roads.

DelDOT officials have experienced what occurs when parking plans are not sufficient to handle large crowds. Firefly attendance has grown from 20,000-25,000 to 80,000 in three years. Punkin Chunkin attracted as many as 60,000 people.

He said, in the past, both events have resulted in long backups onto major roadways. “The same thing could happen here,” he said because vehicles are stopped to process tickets. “There is going to be a 30- to 40-second stopping point for each vehicle, and traffic can back up quickly on our right of way.”

He said to alleviate backups from 2013, this year's Firefly event in Dover had 50 staging lanes manned by volunteers to scan entry tickets one-half mile off the main road. Last fall's Punkin Chunkin had 12 lanes available.

Even with a predicted smaller attendance, he said, it's paramount that a realistic plan be developed and DelDOT recommendations be followed. He admitted that DelDOT has a harder time enforcing those recommendations once vehicles get on private property.

That's where the county could step in, said Councilman Vance Phillips, R-Laurel. He said because the application is a conditional use, the county could stipulate that DelDOT's recommendations are followed. “This body could give you the authority you would need if the application is approved,” he said.

Pires testified that RVs and other campers would be stopped and searched before parking. He also said there is enough land to create staging areas to accommodate a large number of vehicles.

Three entrances are recommended

DelDOT is recommending entrances to the site from Hollyville, Avalon and Lawson roads. Weiser said the Hollyville and Avalon entrances should accommodate three lanes, with one lane reserved for emergency access. The Lawson Road entrance would be used exclusively by performers, vendors and large tractor-trailers hauling equipment. He said that entrance would require substantial improvements including widening.

He suggested day trippers would use the Avalon Road entrance. “We will recommend these entrances to Mr. Pires, and then we need to talk more about a parking plan so vehicles do not back up on the roadway,” Weiser said.

Weiser said it's standard operating procedure that fire and other emergency vehicles park on site at major events to aid in response time at the event as well as the surrounding area.

Regional traffic part of overall plan

Weiser said laying out a map for vehicles to reach the site would require a lot more planning because several roads lead from Route 1 and Route 113 to the site. He said Zoar and Hollyville roads would probably be considered as the main access roads to the site.

Off-site traffic management is also part of the overall plan, Weiser said. He said police would be needed for traffic control at some intersections, and some roads may need to be closed except to local traffic. He said traffic heading to resort areas on major beach routes would also have to be taken into consideration when developing a plan. Some heavily-traveled roads – such as Route 24 – would not be recommended as a route to the proposed site, he said.

In addition, DelDOT would have to manage traffic flow with cameras placed in strategic locations and provide roaming DelDOT patrol vehicles to assist motorists and report on traffic conditions.

Weiser said large vehicles could damage local roads, especially those that are covered with tar and chip. Weiser said roads such as Avalon Road – which is tar and chip – could see an increase of 1,500 more vehicles per day.

DelDOT is recommending that the applicant video tape the roads leading to the site before the events and then after events to assess damage done by vehicles traveling to and from events. Weiser said the applicant would be responsible for road repairs.