DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks talks about the biggest transportation challenges facing the state.
Hometown: Brandywine Hundred
Current residence: Townsend
Family: Husband Ken, daughter Anna
Previous employment description: DelDOT Chief Engineer
Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Carolann Wicks is just as comfortable in steel-toed boots at a construction site as she is in heels at meeting of the governor’s cabinet.
The state transportation boss ascended to her current office from DelDOT’s engineering division; and even though the problems of politics can be somewhat different from the setbacks on a job site, Wicks feels she has no problem tackling both.
Q: What’s the biggest transportation challenge facing the state?
A: Like other state government services, DelDOT is facing significant funding issues. Although we have different funding sources than other state agencies, our funding comes from toll revenues, motor fuel taxes and motor vehicle fees, those revenues are also down. People aren’t traveling as much, people aren’t buying new cars as much. We are also under great stress as an agency to continue to maintain the system we have and also look ahead to provide improvements.
Q: Much of Delaware’s major infrastructure is in the northern part of the state; how does DelDOT balance the need to improve and maintain the transit system above the canal with the need for expansions and new projects downstate?
A: I don’t know that we’re doing a great job as far as being able to balance all the needs right now, whether it’s on the transit side or the highway side. We’re really trying to just hold on to what we have. The northern part of the state is more densely populated, so serving that area with transit has greater efficiencies and we’re able to do that more cost effectively. As you move into Kent and Sussex it does become more challenging, although there are still needs and a growing demand for transit services there. Unfortunately we are not able to really meet that demand at this time.
Q: Many people might consider engineering a male-dominated profession; as a woman, have you ever faced any difficulties or obstacles to your advancement in the field?
A: I believe I have not. I believe that because the state has afforded me some flexibility as I’ve been a mother and tried to juggle career and family life. Having some flexibility in the work schedule and being able to continue both really helped me stay on point with a career track that has taken me to a height that I hadn’t expected. I feel blessed that I have not really felt those hurdles to be so tremendous.
Q: What do you think is the biggest public misconception about DelDOT and what do you think is the best way to correct it?
A: I think probably the biggest misconception is that solving transportation problems is straightforward. I think the public oversimplifies. For example, why can’t you just put some shoulders on a road in Sussex so bikes can be safer? Well, you get there and you see that first you need to purchase real estate because the utility poles are in the way and need to be set back, and then you have property owners who are upset, and then there is a drainage issue. I think the challenge for us is to continue to educate folks on what it takes to put transportation improvements on the ground.
Q: What’s you favorite scenic road for a weekend drive in Delaware?
A: This probably isn’t the answer you might expect, and I don’t just drive it on the weekends, but my favorite scenic road is actually Route 1. I was part of that project years ago as a young project manager and when I drive it today I see where we planted, in certain areas, a lot of natural species so the growth is very attractive. For me, I really enjoy seeing the animals back in the wetlands, the birds and the trees. That’s a great scenic highway, and that was by design.
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