Bypass surgery: DelDOT unveils down-scaled alternative to address Millsboro’s traffic woes

MILLSBORO – Delaware’s Department of Transportation’s down-scaled plan to alleviate chronic traffic congestion in Millsboro is just what the town sought – a decade ago.

At the April 6 Millsboro Town Council meeting, State Sen. Gerald Hocker joined DelDOT representatives Shante Hastings and George Spadafino in briefly outlining a modified alternative proposal that calls for a 2.75-mile 2-lane bypass connecting U.S. 113 and SR 24 north of Millsboro.

POOST Bypass hocker plans

State Sen. Gerald Hocker shares information on DelDOT’s new alternative to address traffic congestion in Millsboro at the April 6 Millsboro town council meeting. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe)

“Well, that’s what we asked for 10 years ago,” Millsboro Mayor Bob Bryan said. “Ten years ago we needed relief in Millsboro and that’s what we wanted: a bypass on the north side of town so we could get the trucks out of town. We just hope it’s going to happen.”

Plans for this proposal – projected to cost $50 million to $60 million – also include intersection improvement and widening of U.S. 113 in specific areas.

That’s a far cry from the $800 million, 16.5-mile “Blue Route” project that the state shelved in 2013 following vehement opposition by local residents and businesses. That alternative included a limited access 4-lane highway east of Millsboro, Dagsboro and Frankford, stretching to Selbyville at the Maryland line. It also included a series of bridges.

“The last proposal affected close to 400 properties,” said Sen. Hocker, R-Ocean View. “This affects like … 61 properties, and a lot of those are just very minor things – a big, big difference.”

The connector route will funnel a large amount of truck traffic – and seasonal beach traffic – around Millsboro’s downtown district.

Mayor Bryan said the Blue Route, as proposed, would have “ended up crossing the river with a bridge, going through Dagsboro and Frankford. That stuff is never going to happen. The cost was prohibitive. I think it would be a billion dollars … when you start building a bridge across the Indian River.”

Thus, DelDOT bagged the Blue Route plan.

“Based on feedback that we received during the public hearings – a lot of strong opposition – we were asked to go back and take another look and see if there is another alternative that we could develop,” said Ms. Hastings, DelDOT’s Deputy Director of Transportation Solutions. “Last summer, in 2014, we got updated traffic counts; that was the first step to figure out how traffic had changed from the original count back in the early 2000s.”

“I think DelDOT listened to the public,” Sen. Hocker said. “I’ve heard it loud and clear that we have to do something with the traffic congestion in the Town of Millsboro. When we had our meetings with DelDOT we said the only major thing that we need with all of these proposed routes is dealing with Millsboro.”

According to Ms. Hastings, DelDOT’s new plan includes on-alignment improvements along U.S. 113, which would include adding a third lane at specific areas as well as intersection improvements, such as turn lanes and modifications to improve capacity.

“It is not limited access. So (U.S.) 113 will basically remain the way it is today. We’d be widening to the median,” Ms. Hastings said. “It would also include this Millsboro bypass which would be a 2-lane connector road; originally we had proposed a 4-lane road.”

The proposed two-lane bypass will relocate a portion of SR 24, connecting an area north of Millsboro/south of Del. 20 and an area west of Mountaire Farms on Del. 24 east of the town. Plans include two bridges over northern sections of Millsboro Pond; the bypass would pass south of the state-owned 300-plus acre Doe Bridge Nature Preserve.

DelDOT’s next step will be meeting with the environmental agencies: the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the State Historic Preservation Office.

“We hope to do that this spring – to meet with them – to present this alternative and get their feedback,” said Ms. Hastings.

Public workshops in the summer, possibly in a July/August timeframe would follow, with presentation of more detailed information in conceptual form.

“After getting feedback from environmental agencies and public workshop, we hope to finalize our preferred alternative and that will allow us to move forward with the final Environmental Impact Statement,” said Ms. Hastings, noting this would allow the project to be eligible for federal funding.

Upon approval of the EIS, hopefully in early 2016, DelDOT would prioritize and rank the bypass project.

“We believe it will rank highly because of the existing traffic congestion and safety issues. That would allow us to move into the capital transportation program, which is our 6-year plan for improvements,” said Ms. Hastings. “That would allow us to allocate funding and begin preliminary design.”

Mayor Bryan believes the project shouldn’t take too long, noting that much of the “land they are talking about is already being leased by the State of the Delaware with an option to buy.”

Millsboro’s mayor added that Mountaire “has offered the state the land that they’d be using – and they’ve offered to give it to them. So they are dealing with very few properties – personal properties.”
The bypass should ease traffic congestion and be beneficial to residents and downtown businesses.

“If there is a restaurant or store on Main Street that you want to stop at and you fight the traffic to get there, then you don’t want to pull over because you know you’re going to have to fight to get back on,” Mayor Bryan said. “It’s going to be a big help to the businesses.”

Sen Hocker said the purpose of the presentation before town council meeting was to quell rumor, ease fear and set the record straight.

“DelDOT approached the senators and the house members that were involved … right around the Millsboro district to show us their first proposal. After I saw it I was very happy with what I saw. It’s 95 percent of the changes that we asked for – that we asked back in 2013,” Sen. Hocker said. “I don’t get involved in town politics unless I am asked.

I wasn’t asked to get involved. I was asked if I could have 10 minutes of their meeting to show them the latest DelDOT proposal before they (DelDOT) went to any environmental hearings or anything to try to get the approvals before it went to a public hearing which will be sometime this summer; in case there were any small minor changes they would like to see before it went out. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t want them blindsided that there is a proposal coming out and them not knowing where it was. But I can tell you, it is everything that we asked for as legislators.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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