Some long-planned road improvements in Sussex County, Delaware, could be headed for the express lane through a new funding initiative that aims to speed up construction of critically needed transportation projects in southern Delaware.
At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Sussex County Council approved creation of the Sussex County Funding Accelerating Safety in Transportation (FAST) Track Program, a first-of-its-kind plan to use set-aside county funds to jumpstart road improvements that are planned, but not imminent, on the state's six-year capital projects list.
Under the FAST Track Program, the county would provide up to $5 million to accelerate projects included in the Delaware Department of Transportation's (DelDOT) Capital Transportation Program plan. County funds would be earmarked for design work, right-of-way acquisition and construction costs. DelDOT, in turn, would fully administer any project. At the completion of a road job, DelDOT would reimburse the county the full amount of funds provided.
County officials are hopeful that by contributing local dollars, giving DelDOT an immediate infusion of cash, projects that are planned, but awaiting state and federal funding, would move up DelDOT's priority list more quickly, shaving off as much as five years for a project's completion.
"The FAST Track Program is a creative initiative that gives the county a voice in the decision-making process when it comes to our road system and allows the county and DelDOT to join together to deliver meaningful results for the public we serve," said County Administrator Todd F. Lawson, who first pitched the concept with DelDOT leadership during the county's comprehensive plan update process more than two years ago.
"Traffic is the single-largest concern we hear from the public, almost on a daily basis," he continued. "By working together with DelDOT, providing upfront money for critical improvement projects, we can put our road system on the fast track to one that is safer and more efficient."
Projects to be advanced under the accelerated program would be chosen based on various criteria, with an emphasis placed on safety, development pressure, other infrastructure investments and ancillary services' needs, such as schools, medical facilities, etc., in the area, Lawson said.
The FAST Track Program would not circumvent or replace the public's ability to review and comment on project proposals. Rather, the program is intended to be a mechanism for funding projects already developed through and commented on by the public.
Quicker project turnaround times will lead to a higher level of satisfaction among the motoring public, said Sussex County Council Vice President Irwin "I.G." Burton III.
"Drivers want to see these upgrades and improvements yesterday," he added. "I believe this will go a long way to relieve some of the congestion that we see out there and make our roads better and safer."
County and state officials hailed the program as another example of the strengthening partnership between the two levels of government. Earlier this fall, each governing body signed off on a new memorandum of understanding to improve planning coordination, as well as adopting the Henlopen Transportation Improvement District in the DE Route 24 corridor.
"As we work to address the growing infrastructure needs in Sussex County, this collaborative effort will allow for projects deemed to be high priority by the county to be expedited through advanced funding provided by the county and reimbursed by the department upon completion," said DelDOT Acting Secretary Nicole Majeski.
With the program approved, county officials have already selected the first project to pilot under the new initiative: the intersection of Cave Neck, Hudson and Sweetbriar roads west of Lewes, which was highlighted in an October presentation on the FAST Track proposal.
Preliminary engineering was set to begin in 2025, but with FAST Track funding from the county, that work could now begin as early as 2021, Lawson said.
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