CDCC claims DelDOT construction delay could hurt proposed Kent County sports complex

The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 25 fired emails off to its members urging them to fight draft plans delaying an intersection improvement project to be built south of Frederica.

The Del. Route 1 Frederica Grade Separation project eliminates the need for vehicles to cross the busy roadway in favor of an overpass system. The proposal also would bring traffic into and out of the proposed Kent County Sports Complex, which is to start construction in 2014.

Located on a 100-acre parcel just off Del. Route 1, the athletic compound will feature fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey tournaments as well as indoor sports facilities.

CDCC President Judy Diogo contends the project has been seriously compromised by DelDOT's decision to delay the overpass.

Work was to begin on at project in fall 2013.

"We need DelDOT and the government to pay attention to this project," Diogo said. "There's been a lot of money put into this project. DelDOT has been in support of it and pretty much has been walking arm in arm with us, but all of a sudden they tell us they're going to move the project back.

"It's detrimental, and they know that."

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta called the change "a big mistake" on DelDOT's part.

"The sports complex will have a tremendous economic impact not only on the economy in Kent County but for the state of Delaware," he said.

The Delaware Economic Development Office has calculated the complex will bring at least $18 million in annual revenue through hotel rentals, restaurants and retail sales.

"The county has donated 80 acres of land to the project, and we're ready to break ground," Banta said. "The money already has been funded and it's ready to go."

Plans for the intersection upgrade began in 2007 as part of DelDOT's Corridor Capacity Preservation Program, intended to improve the connections between Del. Route 1 and the many small rural roads that cross it throughout Kent and Sussex counties. The project would be similar to an overpass completed north of Frederica in June 2011.

Construction on the $25.3 million project was expected to take a little more than two years, and be completed sometime in Fiscal Year 2016.

However, the state's draft Capital Transportation Plan, which covers Fiscal Year 2015 through Fiscal Year 2020 downgraded the project, meaning construction would be delayed for approximately two years.

The change resulted from the department using new criteria to prioritize its projects, said Chief of Community Relations Sandy Roumillat. Those standards included ratings on safety issues, how effective the project would be in moving traffic without excessive delay, how conducive it is to the use of different types of vehicles, the ability to support business, how the project would affect nearby communities and its affect on the environment.

DelDOT announced the results at a Sept. 23 public hearing, attended by 33 people, Roumillat said. Eight left written comments and others made verbal comments that were preserved for the record.

Some of those comments included concerns about the sports complex, she said.

"Everyone is interested in the sports complex, certainly," Roumillat said. "They would like to see it sooner than later. This was a matter of us being able to show everyone how we came to the conclusion we did and we will take those comments under consideration."

Banta said he hopes things will be set right when DelDOT Secretary Shailen P. Bhatt reviews the public comments as well as any protests lodged afterward.

"I feel this can be corrected," he said. "I feel the secretary of transportation, who's been doing an outstanding job with the problems he's encountered, at the end of the day when this is looked at carefully, will decide this interchange is of economic importance to Kent County and the state of Delaware."

By law, the public has 10 days, from the date of the Sept. 23 hearing to submit comments, Roumillat said.

Organizers of the sports complex planned a meeting with DelDOT planners on Sept. 27, but asked for some additional time to review the draft CTP findings. The new date will be Oct. 16 or Oct. 17, she added.