Eye of the TIGER: Federal funding secured for improvements at busy U.S. 9 intersection

Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson speaks at the TIGER grant announcement.

GEORGETOWN – Optimism became reality in efforts to secure major funding to relieve a traffic-flow pressure point on Georgetown’s eastern town limits.

Local, county, state and federal officials gathered Tuesday for the long-awaited announcement: the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $7 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) for improvements at the intersection of U.S. 9, Airport Road and Sand Hill Road.

The announcement was staged in the parking lot of the CHEER Community Center on Sand Hill Road.

“It is so exciting for a lot of reasons,” said DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan. “This is the first time we’ve received this type of grant funding for a project in Sussex County – ever!”

Coined by DelDOT as the Georgetown East Gateway improvements project, the improvements will consist of roadway realignment, additional turn lanes, signal improvements, pavement resurfacing, bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks, transit stops, and lighting improvements.

Federal and state funding totaling more than $14 million is earmarked for improvements at the U.S. 9/Airport Road and Sand Hill Road intersection.

Intersection improvements were a key topic in discussion and Sussex County Council’s subsequent 3-2 approval to provide up to $1.5 million in loan funding in support of the Sussex Sports Center. This private/public partnership with the Sussex Sports Center Foundation is for a $4 million multi-faceted public sports complex on 56 acres off Sand Hill Road north of the CHEER Community Center.

Intersection improvements will impact nearby Sussex Academy and the CHEER Community Center as well as the county airport complex.

“This is a big deal for the town of Georgetown and Sussex County,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “We have very big plans for this surrounding area and this intersection is going to play a big part in that.”

Airport Road is the main entrance to the Delaware Coastal Airport. It serves the county airport, a restaurant, hangars, Delaware State Police aviation unit and county’s EOC center. “This is our access point to all of those facilities,” Mr. Lawson said.

Gov. John Carney and Sec. Cohan were joined by Delaware’s Congressional delegation – U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester and U.S. Sen Chris Conns and U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper – along with state, county, and local officials.

DelDOT had applied for a $7.5 million TIGER grant for the intersection project.

Sen. Carper said about $13 million of the projected $14.6 million project will be covered by federal funding. Besides the $7 million TIGER grant, the remaining $7.6 million is an 80-20 cost share of federal and state money.

“The role for the government is to do for people what they cannot do for themselves,” said Sen. Carper. “Government doesn’t do that by itself, but it is certainly a partner.”

“This is a vital investment, not just for Georgetown, not just for Sussex County but for the region,” said Sen. Coons. “And it is going to make possible economic growth.”

“Transportation, as you all know, is probably the most important partnership that we have with the federal government,” said Gov, Carney.

Congresswoman Blunt Rochester said not only is the TIGER grant historic, it is about economic recovery, economic development and in the end “a better quality of life.”

DelDOT Sec. Jennifer Cohan shares a laugh with Shante Hastings, DelDOT’s Director Policy and Performance at the May 29 announcement of TIGER grant funding for a busy gateway intersection on Georgetown’s eastern limits.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West views this as a “tremendous asset” to the town of Georgetown.

“Before when I was in town government they were talking about this intersection, on how it needs to be improved,” said State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, a former town official who noted the important role of federal partners given the state’s budgetary limitations. “Really, without that we probably would not be standing here today.”

“Many hands make light work,” said State Rep. Ruth Briggs King, adding the bottom line is “our taxpayers don’t necessarily care who is paying for it. They feel they are paying for it in the end and that they are getting good value for it when we all work together to do the most that we can with the funds.”

Sec. Cohan, during a DelDOT project update presentation last November, told council and county leaders there was optimism that Delaware would be a leading candidate for competitive TIGER grant funding slated to be announced in April 2018.

Sec. Cohan at Tuesday’s announcement recognized Shante Hastings, DelDOT’s Director of Policy and Performance for her role in Delaware being awarded the federal grant.

“If it wasn’t for her this grant would not have happened,” Sec. Cohan said. “I know there were a lot of people who put a lot of heart and soul into it, but when we applied for this she is the one that dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, and as I say made it ‘sexy’ enough for feds to give us money.’”

Preliminary engineering began last fall. DelDOT’s project timetable is for final design completion by the fall 2018, with right-of-way acquisition to begin in the fall/winter of 2018 and construction in the spring of 2020.

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

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