Legislator questions subdivision paving program, seeks changes

 

North Street in Dover is being repaved. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — About 84 percent of Delaware’s roadways are under the Department of Transportation’s control, with repaving and other maintenance work subject to the agency’s prioritization process.

Subdivision streets are not among them.

For decades, maintenance on neighborhood roads has been under the jurisdiction of individual legislators. The current program uses what are termed Community Transportation Funds, allocating money to the 62 members of the General Assembly each year to be used on transportation-related improvements as lawmakers see fit.

But one legislator has an issue with the program and recently set a letter to DelDOT requesting changes.

“We believe DelDOT is in violation of state code by improperly delegating its ‘absolute care, management and control’ to non-DelDOT employees,” Rep. Sean Matthews, D-Talleyville, wrote to DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan and Deputy Secretary Nicole Majeski on July 11.

Under the program, fixes for subdivision streets will not take place unless a lawmaker wishes to use his or her allocated money.

Legislators typically use CTF money — of which each received $275,000 this year — to fix problem roads in their districts and thus score points with constituents, but they are not required to.

In 2002, Sen. Tom Sharp, who represented the Stanton area, spent part of his CTF money on Sussex County projects just before leaving office. The move was seen by some as an act of vengeance against his successor, who beat Sen. Sharp’s preferred candidate in a primary.

Although Rep. Matthews did not cite any specific instances of CTF being abused, he noted in his letter that lawmakers could pave the same street year after year, opt not to spend CTF dollars or use their funding for projects in another lawmaker’s district.

“The current CTF does not meet DelDOT’s clear responsibility to maintain subdivision roads and improperly delegates DelDOT’s rightful authority to non-DelDOT employees resulting in (a) waste of taxpayer funds, (b) the indiscriminate matching of available funds to pavement needs and (c) an unfair disadvantaging of taxpayers who live in a high mileage legislative district,” he wrote.

In a letter sent 17 days later, Ms. Cohan defended the existing program.

CTF was started because subdivision streets, which see less traffic than other roadways, would be virtually ignored if they were ranked alongside all of the state’s roads, she wrote. The current system allows lawmakers to select which projects are most important to their communities, whereas they would likely languish for years if not for CTF.

Based on a 2011 report, it would cost $31.8 million annually to maintain all of the state’s subdivisions — a large jump over the total CTF allocation of $17.7 million this fiscal year.

“The debate over whether or not the CTF program is structured and funded adequately is one that has existed since its inception,” Ms. Cohan wrote. “As always, the department stands ready to work with the General Assembly to make any changes and/or restructuring of the CTF program that the General Assembly deems appropriate.”

Rep. Matthews could not be reached for comment.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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