Sussex buildout data ready for DelDOT planners

County officials question funding for infrastructure improvements
September 24, 2017

At build-out, the proposed Henlopen Transportation Improvement District would have 8,600 residential units and 1 million square feet of commercial space within a 17-square-mile area.

That's the finding of an analysis, based on current zoning, conducted by county staff and consultants to be reviewed by Delaware Department of Transportation officials.

DelDOT officials have been working with county staff on the creation of a district for nearly two years.

Already approved in the district are 1,600 new residential units and and an additional 88,000 square feet of commercial space, said Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell

The district boundary has been altered to remove land on the east side of Route 1, Cornwell told Sussex County Council during its Sept. 19 meeting.

The district includes land around Lewes and along the Route 24 corridor, encompassing about 17 square miles.

“DelDOT will take the numbers and set up a road plan to get infrastructure for the area – it’s a holistic approach,” said Councilman I.G. Burton, R-Lewes.

Benefits of Transportation Improvement Districts

• Cost of road improvements is shared equitably by developers
• DelDOT contributes a percentage to road improvements
• DelDOT collects more data – such as traffic counts – specific to the district
• Sussex officials have a say in recommending and approving road work
• Expedited development reviews
• Road projects within district can move up the priority ladder
• Comprehensive infrastructure planning

Burton said the build-out number is information council has never had before. He said the number council still doesn't have is how much money road improvements will cost. “Somebody there is going to have to pay for it,” he said.

Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said he had trouble supporting the transportation district when he didn’t understand how Delaware Department of Transportation officials currently make decisions to fund road projects in Sussex County. “How this gets funded is my biggest concern,” he said.

Burton said road projects, for the most part, have been done by a band-aid approach. “Projects are not getting done at the same time as development or never getting done,” he said.

Burton said it’s critical that DelDOT’s data collected in the transportation district is up to date and correct.

Data questioned

During the public comment period, transportation engineer D.J. Hughes told council that he questions most of the data collected by DelDOT. “I’m concerned about the data,” he said. “Sussex County deserves better.”

He provided council with a long list of what he called inaccuracies in the data including levels of service at most key intersections.

Hughes warned council if it moves forward with DelDOT to formally establish the district, it should ensure that projects are included in the first four years of the agency's six-year capital transportation program because those are the only projects that receive federal funding. “They’ve been talking about improvements for decades – it’s time to build them,” he said.

Hughes said DelDOT officials should redo the data collection to establish a true base for transportation improvements.

Cornwell said the next step would be to submit the data to state transportation officials for review.