Sussex County, DelDOT ink Henlopen TID plan

GEORGETOWN — It’s a marriage that’s receiving quite a reception from Sussex County officials and Delaware’s Department of Transportation, as well as its retiring secretary.

On Tuesday, Sussex County reached a significant mile marker on the road to easing traffic congestion in fast-growing parts of southern Delaware, with County Council’s approval of the Henlopen Transportation Improvement District — a first-of-its-kind plan for the county designed to tie new development to infrastructure investment and enhance overall mobility in the region.

County Council unanimously adopted a multiyear effort to establish a dedicated TID in eastern Sussex, which has experienced increasing traffic counts in the past two decades, spawned by an influx of new year-round residents and seasonal visitors.

It is the first TID in Sussex County and becomes the fourth such district in the state.

“It establishes the terms that will work between DelDOT and Sussex County,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “It creates the TID boundary, sets the service standards, sets the land-use and transportation plan … and establishes the infrastructure fee program, which is approximately 24% developer-funded fee and 76% DelDOT-funded fee.”

Jennifer Cohan

Outgoing Delaware Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan said she welcomes the teamwork.

“This is the marriage between land use and transportation,” she said. “You guys get us on the hook for funding, 76%, and then, we get the ability to help reduce congestion.”

County Council President Michael H. Vincent agreed.

“When it comes to development decisions and road planning, what the county does, what DelDOT does, it’s all part of the same equation,” he said. “We have to work together, for our constituents, to come up with the best solutions to the challenges before us, so that our community thrives and so our residents can enjoy the highest quality of life.”

Ms. Cohan, who is retiring as DelDOT’s secretary at the end of October, and Councilman Vincent signed the documents, finalizing a proposal planted many years ago.

“I went back and looked, … and the first meeting that I had ever with DelDOT officials on this topic was August 2013, right in this room (council chambers),” said Mr. Lawson. “So nearly seven years ago, we started working and discussing this idea, and over time, it has grown to be what it is today.”

“The good thing is you expedited it!” joked Councilman Vincent.

Mr. Lawson said the journey was not entirely smooth.

“Well, there were some bumps in the road, that is for sure — pun intended,” said Mr. Lawson. “It did make it into our comp plan. It went from an idea and an initiative to an actual agreement.”

DelDOT’s TID definition is a geographic area where land use and transportation needs are planned in detail in advance. Instead of focusing solely on the area surrounding proposed development for infrastructure needs, the TID allows for a comprehensive approach about how development will affect traffic in the wider area in the future.

A determined fee for development contributions to the infrastructure ensures that roadwork occurs as development happens and equitably distributes the cost of improvements. Three TIDs are already utilized by DelDOT, all in southern New Castle County, with others under development in Kent County.

“We know that this has been a lengthy process, and DelDOT has invested nearly $1 million in its own resources into this proposal because we strongly believe it will provide a blueprint for development and infrastructure improvements for at least the next 25 years,” Ms. Cohan said. “We are also hopeful that as the Henlopen TID succeeds in its purpose, additional areas in Sussex will be considered for TIDs.”

Under the Henlopen TID proposal, the special district would include a roughly 24-square-mile area, largely from the area of U.S. 9 near the Five Points intersection and along Del. 1, to the Del. 24 corridor down to Herring Creek.

It encompasses 66 miles of roadway and 62 intersections.

In this zone, fees attached to new residential and commercial construction would be collected by Sussex County through the permitting process and released to DelDOT as road projects are needed.

Developers would know the costs upfront and, in turn, would not be subject to, in most cases, performing costly, time-consuming traffic-impact studies for projects, as DelDOT will have in hand existing traffic data, models and comprehensive overviews of the district.

Planners project that 12 new traffic signals, 13 roundabouts and 15 intersections with turn lanes, along with 4 miles of new road connections, all totaling nearly $284 million, will be necessary within the TID to keep pace with current and future development.

Dedicated TID funding would cover up to 25% of that cost.

In the end, the Henlopen TID will represent a win-win for the public and the development community, allowing for a more equitable share in the cost to make road improvements — rather than being borne entirely by state taxpayers — while potentially saving developers time and money as they advance their projects.

Sussex County officials said the adoption of the Henlopen TID represents yet another significant corner being turned in the relationship between the county and state when it comes to land use and transportation planning.

Just last month, Sussex County approved an updated memorandum of understanding with DelDOT to improve coordination, broaden information sharing and better define roles in the land-use process.

“I think the Henlopen TID is a tremendous step forward to keeping our transportation network safe and free-flowing, and it’s one our residents and visitors, I’m sure, will appreciate down the road and in the years ahead,” Councilman Vincent said.

Ms. Cohan concurred.

“I just want to commend all of the council members. You know it was a long road, pun intended, to get here,” Ms. Cohan said. “As you know we spent over $1 million of our own money getting to this point. I really want to give a huge shoutout to the DelDOT staff that have really just put the nuts and bolts into this, and Sussex County, as well.”

“Really, it’s a historic moment for all of us,” she added. “I’m glad I could be part of it.”

For more information on the Henlopen TID, visit sussexcountyde.gov/sussex-county-deldot-initiatives; to learn about TIDs in general, visit deldot.gov/programs/transportation-improvement-districts/index.shtml.