Sussex County officials may have a solution to get at least a few crucial road-improvement projects completed in a more timely manner.
At the Oct. 6 Sussex County Council meeting, County Administrator Todd Lawson introduced the Funding Accelerating Safety and Transportation (FAST) Track Program in partnership with Delaware Department of Transportation.
Lawson said under the proposed program, Sussex County officials would approve the release of funds for a council-selected DelDOT project in order to speed up construction. Once the project is completed, DelDOT would reimburse the money to the county. The funds would cover design, right-of-way acquisitions and construction, which would all be administered by DelDOT, Lawson said.
He said projects would have to be vetted and placed in DelDOT's six-year capital transportation program. County council would have the final decision on projects selected by the county for funding.
“I think safety would be paramount in making a decision,” Lawson said. Other factors would be residential development pressure or significant infrastructure investment in an area.
He said a possible cap could be in the $10 million range. Lawson said funds would come from the county's real estate transfer tax fund.
Under the proposal, Sussex County would release funds as work is completed and not pay out the entire amount at one time.
Look at Cave Neck Road intersection
To get started, Lawson suggested council consider a proposed $5 million improvement project for the Cave Neck Road-Hudson Road-Sweetbriar Road intersection near Milton. He said the work – possibly a roundabout – is ranked No. 77 in DelDOT's Sussex County projects but ranks No. 5 based on safety concerns. Preliminary engineering is not scheduled until fiscal years 2025 and 2026.
Lawson said putting money into the project could advance the timeline and get it completed four or five years earlier than the anticipated date in the capital transportation program.
He said not only is safety to motorists and pedestrians a concern, but development pressure is mounting in the immediate area of the intersection.
“This is a way of advancing a real dangerous intersection that will only get worse. I like this plan, and we need to do this in other spots,” said Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton of Lewes.
Council would have final say
Lawson said any projects selected for the program would be at the discretion of county council. “The commitment is yours. It's what comfort level you have,” he told council, adding DelDOT's capacity to complete work would also be a factor. He said the program is not designed to fund many projects or projects costings tens of millions of dollars.
“Let us get one going and see how it goes,” Lawson said. “We can then revisit this and see if there is a second project we could engage in. We'll continue down this road, and spend time and energy framing up an agreement with DelDOT.”
Lawson said he would place a proposed agreement with DelDOT on a future agenda for council's consideration.
Sam Wilson's concerns
Councilman Sam Wilson of Georgetown said he didn't see how the program would benefit farmers, who, he said, are having hard times getting their grains to market because of traffic congestion. He said he would prefer funding be allotted to easing traffic issues in Millsboro to help farmers get to the Mountaire poultry processing and grain operation.
He was told design work on a Millsboro bypass is already underway. “We keep putting this off. Why do we kick farmers in the rear?” he asked.