A group of 11 state legislators have allocated more than $5,000 each from their community transportation fund coffers to begin a project to lay sidewalk along a stretch of U.S. Route 13.
The project will complete a sidewalk system between Delaware State University and the former Sheraton Dover Hotel, which now is being used as student housing under a $2 million, 15-year lease between the school and the building owners.
Students moved into the former hotel, now known as the Living & Learning Commons, beginning in September. Although the facility is served by the university’s shuttle bus, that schedule does not always accommodate student schedules, particularly for those who lack their own forms of transportation.
Sen. Brian Bushweller, (D-Dover) said school officials contacted him in October with their concerns about the safety of students who might be walking alongside Route 13.
DSU President Dr. Harry Williams said the quick action by a bipartisan group of legislators shows the strong relationship between the school and lawmakers.
“Over the past couple of years, we have expressed our safety concerns for our students multiple times to our legislators in Kent County, and every time they have proven to be responsive and supportive,” Williams said in a prepared statement.
Although there is an existing sidewalk along part of the western side of the busy highway, there is a major gap along an empty lot that runs from the alleyway behind the H.H. Gregg electronics store and the Capital Inn of Dover. There also is no sidewalk directly in front of the Living & Learning Commons.
Plans to fill these gaps had been on DelDOT’s project list for years, Bushweller said.
“The irony is that there’s only a short stretch of the highway that doesn’t already have sidewalks,” he said. “Someone at the university told me about it and so I talked to [Rep. Darryl Scott, (D-Dover)] and we said let’s see what our colleagues think.”
When asked, Kent County’s legislators − six Democrats and five Republicans − immediately went along with the plan, Bushweller said.
Since DelDOT already had put a price tag of approximately $60,000 on the project, Bushweller pulled out the calculator and decided that the 11 state senators and representatives would have to earmark at least $5,000 from their respective community transportation funds.
“It’s a great example of bipartisan relationships in Delaware, which isn’t all that unusual anyhow,” he said.
“This really is the perfect use of community transportation fund money,” he added. “It’s a question of safety for the kids. There is a pathway there, but we’re fearful too many of the kids would walk on the curbs or in the right lane of the highway.”
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Legislators often cooperate with CTF monies
Each budget year, state legislators are allocated money to be used for transportation and transportation-related expenses, said legislative spokesman Dick Carter.
“They can use that money for projects, either to fund the cost or part of the cost of a project that otherwise would not get funded or where the funding was slowed down because of how the transportation funding process works,” Carter said.
State senators and representatives can target the cash toward sidewalk projects, efforts to correct drainage issues, street lighting and even can erect historical markers, Carter said.
“In this case, the funding is related to transportation because it is designed to keep Delaware State University students from having to walk on Route 13,” Carter said.
For Fiscal Year 2014, each state legislator was given $250,000 for various community transportation projects, Carter said. They also can carry forward any unused allocations into the next fiscal year, he added.
State lawmakers often combine their transportation funding to benefit more than one district, Carter said.
“The DSU sidewalk project includes more legislators because it is deemed as being of importance to the entire county, rather than to particular legislative districts,” he said.
Rep. William Outten, (R-Harrington), said he’d noticed the problem beforehand while driving along Route 13.
“It’s for safety purposes,” Outten said. “The kids are walking from their dorms to the college and there’s not a whole lot of sidewalk there.”
Outten, who previously had teamed with other legislators in using CTF monies for projects to include a new plaza at Wesley College, said he felt the sidewalk project should be completed.
“It’s not in my district, but there may be some young adults from my district going to school there, so it’s a good opportunity to help the college.”
Rep. Donald Blakey (R-Dover South) concurred.
“We try to help each other across the borders of our districts with common projects, and I think this is a common project,” he said. “We certainly don’t want the students being exposed to traffic by being forced to walk in the streets.”
“I think it gives legislators an opportunity to use their community transportation money in an appropriate way for an entity in our town that’s proving to be a very exciting institution,” Bushweller said. “DSU is really starting to move, and if we can be a part of that process, most legislators would say ‘Sign me up.’”
Page 3 of 3 - Work on the project should start soon, said Geoff Sundstrom, director of public relations for DelDOT.
Crews will be able to clear and prepare the area, but will not be able to pour the concrete until they have a period of time where the temperature stays above freezing, Sundstrom said.