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4/25/2013
New traffic study rules call for longer-range studies; Bob Weiner: We keep pushing the problem down the road - News Journal

“The upside here is that, theoretically, this ensures the developer pays a fairer share,” said Bob Weiner, a land-use attorney and New Castle County councilman.

“But the bottom line is there’s no finite date for bringing traffic up to acceptable levels of service [through road improvements]. We push the problem down the road,” he added.


DELAWARE TRAFFIC - RESOLVING PAST COMPLAINTS - New traffic study rules look further down road. Plans: New rules call for longer-range studies.

MELISSA NANN BURKE  News Journal April 25, 2013

After two years of drafts, debates and revisions, the state is implementing a new process for determining when and how much developers pay for road and intersection upgrades related to their projects.

And, still, not everyone is pleased.

The effort aims, in part, to resolve complaints about traffic studies and their spot improvements that try to mitigate congestion piecemeal, project by project.

In regulations set to take effect May 10, Delaware places new emphasis on the regional impact of development on congestion-related delays and aging infrastructure. 

Within identified growth areas – such as the west side of Middletown or southeast Milford – developers could contribute to a common fund that the state Department of Transportation later uses for infrastructure upgrades.

“You’ll really have a much more truly comprehensive planning tool,” said engineer Marc Coté, who works on development coordination at DelDOT. “You’re actually defining an area, looking at its potential, identifying the needs, forming a solution, then executing the plan.”

Transportation planners soon will begin monitoring areas targeted for growth by local and county governments.

DelDOT will perform traffic studies that examine projected growth within each Transportation Improvement District. Next, they set up specific plans to identify the short- and long-term work needed to bring intersections and road segments up to a functional standard, said Bill Brockenbrough, county coordinator in DelDOT’s planning department.

“We identify everything needed by that horizon year. The monitoring program is to tell us how close we are to needing those things,” he said.

Brockenbrough hopes to create three TIDs this year – one for each county – in conjunction with the local governments and other stakeholders.

The revision process was prompted, in part, by the controversies surrounding the lack of a comprehensive traffic study for the proposed commercial development at Barley Mill Plaza in Greenville, and the initial waiver for such a study at Governor’s Square II Shopping Center in Bear.

Changes in the regulations will not apply to those projects or others for which DelDOT has already provided direction on the need for a traffic study or defined its scope.

Some citizens remain concerned about the extent to which the public may play a role in determining the scope and standards of the TIDs. They also say TIDs could increase the lag time between the construction of new projects and their related road improvements.

“The upside here is that, theoretically, this ensures the developer pays a fairer share,” said Bob Weiner, a land-use attorney and New Castle County councilman.

“But the bottom line is there’s no finite date for bringing traffic up to acceptable levels of service [through road improvements]. We push the problem down the road,” he added.

Tom Dewson, a member of the Save Our County Coalition suing New Castle County over the rezoning of Barley Mill, was disappointed the revisions failed to resolve the “flawed” funding mechanism whereby developers pay an assessment to DelDOT and are free to proceed with development.

“It sets up a situation where developers may pay pennies on the dollar for improvements. If the improvements never get made, the public is left with a traffic nightmare, and the taxpayer ends up eventually funding it out of our pockets,” Dewson said of some concerns.

“There needs to be improvements identified up front and developers made to pay for and make the required upgrades concurrent with the build out of their project,” he said. “This is the only way to protect the public.”

Land-use attorney Shawn Tucker was among those pleased that his clients would contribute to road upgrades only to the extent that their development would increase traffic – rather than also paying for the impact of general traffic growth.

Developers would still go through the local government processes to gain approval of specific projects and be subject to local zoning codes.

“The theory of a TID is that once a developer knows their required contribution, it is fixed,” said Geoff Sundstrom of DelDOT.

If a county requires the developer to pay for a signal upgrade, for instance, “any money spent would be credited against their TID contribution. So, their overall spending would remain the same,” he said. 

The new state regulations, set to take effect May 10, require traffic studies that examine projected growth within each Transportation Improvement District. 

Some remain concerned about the role of public input in determining in setting the standards . 

Contact Melissa Nann Burke at 324-2329, mburke@delawareonline. com or on Twitter @nannburke.  

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