DelDOT is in Pete’s comfort zone, pot not

June 14, 2019

Ask Pete Schwartzkopf about the safe and efficient flow of traffic along Route 1 in his 14th legislative district. You’ll find lots of enthusiasm. Ask him about efforts to legalize all marijuana use in Delaware. Not so much.

Both issues are informed by Schwartzkopf’s 25 years with the Delaware State Police - most of them in eastern Sussex County. He’s watched traffic a lot, and he’s seen drivers impaired by the effects of pot.

Let’s talk traffic first and then pot.

Delaware’s speaker of the House of Representatives feels that overall, DelDOT is doing a good job. He’s pleased with the amount of money committed and the many projects under way now in Sussex. “I’ve learned over the years that the best way for me to be effective is to build relationships and friends. I think the folks at DelDOT listen to me because they know I have real experience with the issues we face down here. If I tell them we have a problem, they listen to me. And they know I’ve checked out the situation before I call them.”

One day recently, Schwartzkopf noticed the Route 1 roadway crumbling at a crosswalk intersection in Dewey Beach. “I know DelDOT plans to resurface that area after this summer, but I also knew that if something wasn’t done immediately about that problem, people using that crosswalk would soon be walking in holes. That’s not good for anybody.”

He called DelDOT on Monday last week and sent them a photo of the problem. “They called me back on Wednesday and said they could have a contractor working on another problem in the area fix the intersection problem on Thursday. I called T.J. Redefer - the mayor - and told him what was going on. He was happy to hear something was going to be done and told me to go ahead. ‘Good,’ I said, ‘I already told them to get it done.’ I didn’t want holes in the road coming up on Fourth of July weekend.”

Schwartzkopf knew the work would disrupt traffic for most of the day but still wanted it fixed. “Any of these things we want fixed will involve some pain for a while, but that’s what it takes to improve things.” The problem was fixed by the end of the day last Thursday. “That’s what friendships can do.”

Then there’s the other side of the coin. On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Schwartzkopf saw that DelDOT had completed a project in the shoulder of the southbound lane of Route 1 south of Fifer’s produce market. “I just about blew a gasket. They built this curb almost all the way across the shoulder to make the crosswalk ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. [The curb allows for a wheelchair-accessible ramp from the crosswalk up onto the sidewalk beyond the highway shoulder.]  I understand wanting to be handicapped compliant, but this has created a very dangerous situation, especially at night. There are hundreds of scooters and cyclists that come down that shoulder, and this new curb juts out right in front of them.

“I texted Jennifer Cohan [DelDOT secretary] that day. I told her this is bad; someone’s going to get hurt. They didn’t tell the town, nobody, what was being done. They had put out one safety cone but I added several more so people will know it’s there. I would say it’s 1,000 to 0 the number of cyclists and scooters coming down that shoulder compared to the number of wheelchairs that cross that intersection.”

Schwartzkopf said the situation is so dangerous that he would almost rather see the whole crosswalk removed to avoid the ADA-compliance issue than to keep the current status. “It may be coming out,” he said. “When we pass laws, we do them to address issues that occur 99 percent of the time. It’s common sense. This is not.”

Meanwhile, cyclists, moped riders and scooter riders in the southbound shoulder of Route 1 should be very wary of the new curb.

Now, about pot

Schwartzkopf, as speaker of the house, manages the business that comes to the floor for consideration and votes. He’s talked to the lawmaker sponsoring the legislation to legalize all marijuana use in Delaware for adults. “I’m a no vote, but I told him that I won’t stop the bill, nor support it. I’ll put it on the floor for a vote when he shows me that he has the votes needed to pass. Right now I think he’s about two votes short. That vote count is a problem, and so is a fiscal note attached to the bill that says the state would have to hire about 22 employees to administer the program, costing between $2 million and $3 million per year. I know there would be tax dollars coming from the sale of marijuana, but where would that money come from before those taxes start rolling in?”

The last time the Cape Gazette polled Sussex County legislators about legalizing recreational marijuana use, no representative or senator favored the move.

“For me there are more question marks than answers,” said Schwartzkopf. “That comes from 25 years of police work. I’ve seen drivers impaired, and it concerns me that unlike with alcohol, there isn’t - as far as I know - a certified way of testing a driver’s level of impairment from marijuana.

“The latest problem I’m hearing from Colorado is with the edibles. I’m told that the effect from edibles takes a while to come on. People don’t feel anything and then they eat more. But then when it does kick in, they’re already moving into overdose mode. They end up in the emergency room with psychotic breaks. That means breaks with reality. That doesn’t sound good or safe to me. I supported decriminalizing marijuana use - which is now the law - so people can use it in the privacy of their own homes, but that’s as far as I’m willing to go now.”

Legislative homestretch

We’re into the final weeks of this year's General Assembly session. Schwartzkopf said the budget is ready to roll, but the bond bill - which funds many capital projects - is still being tweaked. He hopes to have money included in that bill to further help Rehoboth Beach with its plans for installing a public dock for small-craft access to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal behind the Rehoboth Beach Museum.

As of this writing, he said he expected to see a bill introduced this week that would allow all of Delaware’s counties to pass a 3 percent county tax for hotels and motels outside of incorporated towns. “That would create a level playing field for hotels inside and outside incorporated areas.”

The House of Representatives recently passed legislation that will allow Rehoboth Beach to levy a 3 percent city tax on hotels and motels.

Schwartzkopf said the measure has support from some members of Sussex County Council and from a number of Sussex lawmakers. “But I’ve made it clear that the funds - which would be collected and administered by the counties - have to be earmarked for certain needs such as beach replenishment, dredging of waterways, tourism and a few other related items.”

The General Assembly’s 2019 session ends on June 30. Stay tuned.  

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter