In a little more than two years, area drivers will be able to travel from Delaware Route 1, bypass the city of Dover and head directly for Camden and points south, thanks to an idea almost 20 years in the making.

The long-gestating West Dover Connector project, intended help relieve traffic crowding in and around the city, came closer to reality with a groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 6.

Local dignitaries, including Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and Camden Mayor Justin King were on hand with Delaware Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan to turn the symbolic first shovels of dirt.

When completed around spring 2017, the 3.2-mile long project will connect west Dover with U.S. Route 13 at Camden. Construction costs for the roadway will be about $38.3 million; counting design costs and land and right-of-way purchases, the final tally is expected to total $60 million, DelDOT spokesman Greg Layton said.

In remarks shortened because of the bone-chilling weather, Cohan said the benefits of the project will be worth the years of anticipation through shortened travel times across Dover and by helping to relieve occasional gridlock.

By 2035, DelDOT anticipates more than 19,000 trips daily on the connector, she said.

In prepared remarks, King said the connector should ease through traffic in Camden’s historic district, while Christiansen noted the road’s ability to move traffic into Dover’s industrial area would be another marketing tool when it comes to new businesses and jobs.

Debate on budget, route cause 19-year drag on plans

The connector has been part of the city of Dover’s comprehensive development plan since 1996 and is part of the state’s overall transportation network plan for Dover and Kent County.

However, work did not start on planning the connector until the General Assembly authorized funding almost eight years later. A series of public workshops on the project began in 2004.

A 40-member working group of Dover and Camden officials, businessmen and area residents met in May of that year to learn about the project and to set up an avenue for giving their input to DelDOT about where the connector should be built.

Although it was agreed early in the project the roadway would start at the intersection of North Street and Saulsbury Road, initial debate centered on the connector’s southern terminus. Almost since the beginning, the plan called for the connector to run across the undeveloped Eden Hill Farm property, but questions were raised about how the roadway would deal with the barrier presented by the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, which run along the southern edge of the property.

Seven additional workshops were held through November 2005, but budget cutbacks slowed work on the project and the next public meeting was not held until October 2010 when DelDOT announced it had settled on a final plan.

As now envisioned, the roadway will begin at the Saulsbury/North intersection, run across the Eden Hill property behind the General Foods plant and across the Puncheon Run stream, and partially parallel New Burton Road.

It will connect to a bridge taking it over the railroad tracks, along the site of the Kent County Recreation Center and Boy Scout camp and into Rodney Village.

DelDOT bought and demolished 13 homes along Charles Polk Road in Rodney Village, and will run the roadway along the site of those homes, with a berm to separate the connector from the development.

There also will be a connection to Wyoming Mill and New Burton roads, as well as bicycle and walking paths that will be part of an area-wide pedestrian/cycling project. Additional work at both ends of the project will upgrade traffic signals and turn lanes.