Lewes rail tracks a valuable public asset

October 5, 2017

You're doubtless aware that Lewes has become choked with traffic and has been the target of what can only be termed colossal development plans at Overbrook, along Fourth Street, and at Murray's Corner, just opposite the high school.

By removing the tracks all the way to Cool Spring, DelDOT will have cancelled any future alternative to automotive access to Lewes, the Cape May ferry, Cape Henlopen State Park, and nearby points. An article appeared in the Dover paper a while ago titled "Saturation Pointe," arguing that motor vehicle crowding will shortly begin to discourage shore visitors. Otherwise put, in the absence of transit planning, Lewes will become a victim of its own success.

When Mr. MacArthur interviewed the railroad's general manager, Mr. Dan Herholdt, he suggested that maybe a short stretch of track could be preserved as a museum of sorts. That would enhance Lewes' historic character, and it would likewise relegate rail access to the status of a quaint antique, like the artifacts and curios from colonial days in the Zwaanendael Museum. He views the line as a relic of a century ago, when visitors to Lewes arrived by train and steamboat. In part, his is a sensible and practical opinion, and a widely shared one. But it is deeply flawed and lacks vision.

If growth patterns persist even at current levels, Lewes will simply be unable to sustain the motor vehicle traffic: Don't take my word for it; ask any town planner. And as for the historic downtown ambiance that attracts visitors, nothing short of building a pedestrians-only zone can preserve even a scrap of it. Just keeping the tracks in place is an obvious and low-cost solution, and it maintains options. In the not-so-distant future, some kind of modern rail service may help to partially alleviate Lewes' traffic problems, which will only worsen.

I've seen this happen in many places nationwide, small towns and big cities, and listened to public officials, business owners, and professionals rue the day the tracks were torn up. I also might mention that railroad tracks are probably enemy number one on developers' hate lists. Massive sprawl in the area near Windsor, N.J., east of Princeton, was held in check for years by an unused rail line. Last year it was removed, and the bulldozers have moved in.

This is a valuable public asset that shouldn't be scrapped: I'd suggest mothballing the whole line and banking it as a civic resource.

Harvey Clark Greisman PhD


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