Bethany looking at ‘overdue’ improvements to Atlantic Avenue

Atlantic Avenue is one of Bethany Beach’s most-used streets. In fact, the town’s easternmost north-south street tops all roadways in the state for pedestrian traffic density during the busy summer season.

It’s also overdue for paving, for updates for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, for upgrades to the water-service connections below it and for improvements to address flooding issues, as well as lacking a “hospitable” sidewalk along much of its length.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet at the town council’s Feb. 13 workshop told the council that the road today is “almost a perfect storm of maintenance and other issues” and has for years been at the top of the Town’s list for repaving, as well as the other updates that were addressed in a presentation by Kercher Engineering last spring.

That presentation focused on a concept for revamping the roadway, with two travel lanes, a 2-foot buffer between the roadway and property lines, parking on both sides, a 4-foot sidewalk on one side and a 9-foot multi-use pathway on the other, for the use of both cyclists and pedestrians.

“It isn’t ideal,” Graviet said of combining bicycle and foot traffic on one path, “but there’s no way to accommodate” a separate bicycle lane unless it is placed in the street, where cyclists would be at risk from the doors of parked cars being opened.

He proposed the council consider splitting an Atlantic Avenue roadway project into two segments — north and south sections — and that they start with the south section, due to a number of factors.

Graviet noted that many property owners on Atlantic Avenue — especially on the north side — have “appropriated a portion of the right-of-way for their own use,” making it more likely that the Town would see resistance from property owners on the north side to reclaiming Town property for the roadway project.

“People have extended their driveways 3 to 9 feet into the right-of-way,” he said, with some parking cars in the right-of-way. “They will have to make accommodations” for the project, he added, emphasizing that the property owners are “not legally entitled” to use the right-of-way area, “even if they have done it for 50 years.”

Additionally, he said, the higher amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the south end of the street means that the cost/benefit ratio of the south-end project would be higher. It’s also the shorter of the two sections and sees less vehicular traffic.

Finally, it has fewer properties in need of upgrades of their connections to the older 2- to 4-inch water mains to the newer 8-inch main. (There are 80 properties along the entire roadway for which the water service connection needs to be upgraded.)

Graviet said that if the council chose to move ahead quickly with the south-section project, the work could potentially begin in the fall. The first step would be to schedule a public hearing, with notification going directly to residents on S. Atlantic so that they could be sure to attend the related presentation by the engineering firm.

The council voiced support for the project and the idea of starting with a southern section, as well as moving forward with at least the public hearing on the issue.

The roadway, Councilman Chuck Peterson said, is “obviously in great need of help. It will be good to move this forward.”

Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer said he felt there might be less “pushback” from property owners on the north side of the roadway once they see the improvements to the south. He also noted that the plans for the south end could be modified, if needed, when the project moves to the north end of the road.

“We should at least do the drainage and ADA sidewalk,” he said. “It’s overdue for us to do something.”

Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman agreed, saying, “It’s long ovedue. There are ADA compliance issues,” and that she and her family usually walk down Pennsylvania Avenue instead of Atlantic, “because it is so dangerous. The ADA must be done, if nothing else. We need this done as soon as possible.”

Councilman Jerry Morris said, “I’m surprised we haven’t had a problem already — especially at night,” adding that he felt the Town should proceed with the improvements as quickly as possible.”

“It has to be repaved anyway,” Mayor Jack Gordon said of the road. “It would be nice to get this settled so everyone can see it’s a nice improvement for the town to have.”

Hardiman made note of the plan to include some plantings along the parking area and questioned whether the plants would survive car doors being opened against them. Graviet clarified that the plantings were to be minimal, largely in the areas between individual parking spaces, and would serve primarily as a buffer for pedestrians and cyclists from those same car doors.

Killmer asked whether the Town has the landscaping resources to maintain such plantings. Graviet said much of that work is seasonal employment, and the Town could add a few more weeks of seasonal help to address any additional burden. He also noted that the Town had begun exploring the idea of bringing in interns in horticulture training to do such work.

Gordon also warned the council that the estimated costs for the project had increased, in addition to costing more overall to split the project into two. The prior estimate for the entire project had been $1.9 million. The most recent estimate for the south end alone was $1.1 million, he said, recommending the Town proceed with a hearing as soon as it can, to avoid additional cost increases.

With the Town moving into the final preparations for adopting its 2018-fiscal-year budget, Graviet said the council would still have to decide how to pay for the project and should be well-versed in the issue before a hearing. One scenario, he said, would be that the Town would pull the money from its reserves and then pay back the reserves over a number of years. That scenario was recommended by Finance Director Janet Connery.

He said the Town could set the public hearing for April, which would put it on track to start the work in the fall. Killmer, however, said he felt May might be a better time for the hearing, since more property owners would be in town.

But Graviet said he was concerned that delaying until after May to develop a request-for-proposals for an approved project might prevent them from being able to have the work done in the fall.

“We’ve invested a good bit in the preliminary survey work, but to develop the package — I’m not sure they could accomplish that, and I don’t want to tell them to go ahead before the public hearing.”

Hardiman suggested a Saturday hearing to improve turn-out in April, while Councilman Bruce Frye suggested the Town make sure the hearing was streamed live online.

The council consensus was for an April hearing, with the Town working to ensure as many people know about it as possible.