DelDOT spending $500 million on Kent projects

DelDOT estimates about 19,000 vehicles will travel the West Dover Connector — recently named the POW-MIA Parkway — daily when it opens next summer. The 3.2-mile road will connect West Dover to Camden. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DelDOT estimates about 19,000 vehicles will travel the West Dover Connector — recently named the POW-MIA Parkway — daily when it opens next summer. The 3.2-mile road will connect West Dover to Camden. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Delaware’s Department of Transportation is spending half a billion dollars on Kent County projects over the next six years, a sum the department’s chief says may be the most ever invested in the state’s middle county.

That $500 million includes a long-awaited road to better connect west and south Dover; a welcoming entrance corridor to Dover and a host of changes to the state’s main highway near the Sussex county line, DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan said.

Some of the projects have just finished. Others aren’t scheduled to begin construction for several years. But all will impact the county in many ways.

“Any time you do transportation and infrastructure improvements, you get economic development. They’re almost tied hand in hand,” Ms. Cohan said. “But not even so much the economic development but quality of life for those folks that are living in the Camden area, the Dover area — that’s hugely important.

“And then our hyperfocus on bike and trail paths, I think, also adds to that quality of life.”

Asked to pick her favorite Kent project, Ms. Cohan named several, including a new 3.2-mile connector road spanning from west Dover to just north of Camden. Formerly known as the West Dover Connector, it was renamed the POW-MIA Parkway in October.

“The POW-MIA Parkway, I like that one because that’s actually a whole new road and it’s rare that we do that,” Ms. Cohan said.

The connector stretches from the Eden Hill Commercial Center to the south end of Rodney Village, next to Brecknock Park, with no traffic lights or stop signs to delay travel.

Traffic lights at both ends of the connector are expected to help control flow; another one at a branch off New Burton Road will help cars entering and exiting there. The roadway includes a bridge stretching across Puncheon Run and another over New Burton Road.

In keeping with a theme DelDOT has emphasized in recent years, the parkway has a path for joggers and cyclists, as well.

The project, which had its groundbreaking in February 2015, is due to open in the summer. DelDOT estimates it will see upward of 19,000 cars a day by 2019.

“I see it as an economic development tool which will grant us access to the western industrial parts of the city of Dover,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said at the groundbreaking. “It’ll join Camden with us and provide an easy access around the city.”

Just a mile away from the south end of the POW-MIA Parkway will be the Camden Bypass, a project designed to ease congestion in Camden.

The bypass, one of the highest-ranked projects on DelDOT’s annual Capital Transportation Program, would connect Camden-Wyoming Avenue and South Street to give cars another way to get past Camden.

For years, trucks rumbling through the town have stirred up dust and disturbed residents, meaning quality of life will be improved for those living in downtown Camden when the bypass is complete.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2020.

Along Del. 1, DelDOT has started five projects in the Frederica-Milford area over the past two years. Several of them are now finished.

A grade-separated interchange at Thompsonville Road finished in November while intersections at South Frederica and Little Heaven are due to be completed in 2018. Construction on an intersection at Northeast Front Street is set to start around June.

The spate of construction can be traced back to several things, starting with the 2013 adoption of a new method of ranking projects. Using the software program Decision Lens, DelDOT began what officials say is a more scientific method of scoring proposals based on a variety of criteria.

“I attribute that, for both Kent County and Sussex County, to our fairly new project prioritization process,” Ms. Cohan said. “Because, to be quite honest with you, projects would get in our project lineup — queue — for lots of different reasons, not always necessarily because of a major need.

“But once we put that project prioritization process in place, three years ago, projects through Kent County and Sussex County that were in the most need rose to the top, which validates our process, which I think is great and equals and levels the playing field for all counties.”

A 2015 bill that raised Division of Motor Vehicles fees helped bring in some more money for the agency, which also borrowed some additional funds.

Coupled with raising Del. 1 tolls in 2014 and a federal funding bill, the agency has pulled in more than $400 million for the current spending plan. Altogether, 102 projects, all fully funded, are included on the proposed plan for fiscal years 2018 to 2023.

While the potential total economic impact of the projects is not something DelDOT has studied, Ms. Cohan said she believes it will be sizable.

The department estimates 7,500 construction jobs will come out of the $400 million U.S. 301 expansion currently underway in New Castle County, and “right around that same number” of jobs should come from the Kent work, according to Ms. Cohan.

Elsewhere in the county, DelDOT is working on a “gateway” to downtown Dover where Loockerman Street turns into Forest Street. That work could include a roundabout.

“Just trying to … make coming into the capital city a little nicer,” Ms. Cohan said.

The project is still in the preliminary engineering stage and isn’t scheduled to finish for at least four years. When it does, downtown Dover could be more visually appealing, Ms. Cohan indicated.

It’s something Ms. Cohan can appreciate for several reasons.

As the head of one of the state’s most important and visible agencies she is a big fan of the work Kent County is seeing. As someone who’s heavily invested in central Delaware from a personal standpoint, she’s even more supportive.

“From a lifelong Kent Countian, I feel like it’s about time, and I think, …from a transportation standpoint the project prioritization really kind of shone a light on, there are things in Kent County and they’re being met now, which is great,” she said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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