DelDOT celebrates 100 years of history

 

DOVER — If you ask Delaware’s Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan what DelDOT’s most significant accomplishment has been during its 100-year history, she’ll say it has to be Del. 1.

“Route 1 was an incredibly significant project,” she said. “It really was envisioned as a limited access highway to get people through the state. We needed something from Wilmington to the beaches. Although I would say that the work we’re doing right now on US 301 isn’t far behind it in terms of significance.”

A well-attended DelDOT open house at their headquarters in Dover on Wednesday to celebrate the agency’s 100th birthday turned out to be the perfect occasion to ponder such questions.

Visitors were welcomed to roam the administrative building’s atrium and examine archival photographs, artifacts retrieved from various DelDOT archeology excavations, old documents and tools.

One display documented the changes in DelDOT’s yearly budget over its long history. In fiscal year 1926, the agency recorded its expenditures at $2,828,609.

Since then, it’s grown quite a bit. In FY 2017, the capital and operating budget is up to $851,386,956.

Rep. Edward Osienski, D-Newark, who chairs the House’s transportation committee, was on hand during a brief ceremony to present DelDOT with an official recognition signed by all the House representatives.

Jennifer Cohan

“It’s my honor on behalf of all the representatives in the house, to present this tribute to DelDOT on their 100th anniversary,” he said. “The members of the Delaware House of Representatives acknowledges DelDOT on this special anniversary and how over the past 100 years, they have enhanced the mobility and quality of life of Delaware citizens by providing excellence in transportation. We thank them for their service.”

The event also featured exhibits with past and present traffic equipment and signage, vintage license plates, a variety of maintenance equipment and service vehicles, a DART bus commemorating the 100th Anniversary and even a Lego replica of the Charles W. Cullen Bridge.

DelDOT credits much of its origin to Thomas Coleman du Pont, great-grandson to the DuPont Company founder.

The “born to riches” Mr. du Pont was a civil engineering graduate from MIT and distinguished himself as the president of the DuPont Company in 1902, a U. S. senator and founder of the Wilmington Trust Bank.

His crowning achievement, as far as DelDOT is concerned, was his building of a “Grand Boulevard” that ran the length of Delaware from his own personal wealth donated to the state.

“T. Coleman du Pont said early on that he was going to build a monument 100-miles high and then lay it on the ground,” said Ms. Cohan at the celebration. “It’s hard to imagine now, but that was the beginning of transportation in Delaware.”

According to DelDOT, du Pont’s funding stands today as the greatest personal gift in highway history. Starting in Sussex County in 1911, Mr. du Pont allegedly supervised design and construction of the first 30 miles of the two-lane concrete road himself, building it with 200 foot rights-of-way bypassing all towns with curves and grades adequate for high-speed traffic.

The road went on to become what modern Delawareans call Route 13.

“There were only a few people that started the transportation department 100 years ago,” said Ms. Cohan. “Compare that to the over 3,000 strong that we are now. Every one of us are committed to making sure that Delaware has the best transportation system in the world.”

Out front of the headquarters DelDOT showcased its recently purchased “Tow plow” which Ms. Cohan playfully called “the most bad-ass vehicle we have.”

The large snow plow vehicle is capable of towing a specially designed trailer with its own attached pivoting plow blade and 2,000 gallons worth of tank space for brine.

When fully extended, the plow can clear an entire roadway from shoulder to shoulder in a single pass.

Looking to the future, if you ask Ms. Cohan to predict what the most significant project of DelDOT’s next 100 years will be, she’ll say the upcoming Wilmington viaduct replacement.

“Managing the traffic while we’re doing the viaduct replacement will be a really big challenge,” she said. “It’ll be a two year project and we’re probably going to get started around 2021. It’s very exciting how far we’ve come.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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