DelDOT presents preliminary Route 113 options

More than 100 area residents stopped by the Millsboro Fire Hall on May 23, and more than 50 headed down to the Selbyville Fire Hall the next day, to find out just how much impact Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) plans for a limited access Route 113 might have on them.

DelDOT forwarded the preliminary alternatives distilled from initial public outreach to a civilian work group, which has since gone over the options, recommending either the scrap pile or advancement for detailed study.

In essence, the options for Route 113, as transformed into a limited access road, come in three forms.

• On-alignment (improvements to the existing highway).

• West bypasses (around Millsboro, Dagsboro, Frankford and/or Selbyville).

• East bypasses (around the first three towns, but not Selbyville, due to existing development and wetlands).

There are numerous permutations in each area, and the Millsboro South Area Working Group took a close look at every one of them. (The work group is local mayors and town managers, emergency responders, businesspeople, nonprofit workers, state and county representatives and a few random citizens.)

Here are their recommendations, as outlined in the memo from Project Manager Monroe Hite III (DelDOT).

On-alignment — no thanks. However, because regulating agencies will insist that at least one of the options be forwarded on to detailed study, work group members voted for a hybrid of options one and two (scrapping the third idea, for additional lanes where the median is now).

Elements of the proposed hybrid include (1) grade separations (ramps, overpasses) at main intersections, (2) primarily existing roads but some frontage roads for access, and that would be every mile or so through Millsboro (3) Route 26 would be relocated south of Dagsboro and Route 54 would be relocated north of Selbyville.

According to the work group, there’s substantial opposition to on-alignment, and property impacts are three to four times what the bypasses would incur (although there would be less impact on natural resources).

West bypasses — not really. Only one alternative — a half circle around Selbyville — was forwarded for detailed study, and the work group recommended DelDOT drop nine of the other options altogether.

Some of the group members voted to keep a final pair of Millsboro bypasses, one hugging the town’s western borders and the other meandering south to Route 26 before angling back, in case other constraints forced DelDOT towards the west — the rest if the group voted to get rid of those as well.

East bypasses — yes. The work group gave four alternatives the thumbs-up.

All begin west of the Stockley Center (north of Millsboro) and curve toward Route 24 near the Mountaire poultry plant.

They all cross the Indian River on the way back, near the Conectiv Power Plant, and then Route 26, east of Dagsboro (east of Route 20, Armory Road).

The work group scrapped one option that would have cut back north of Dagsboro — the remaining alternatives return to (Business Route 113) either north or south of Frankford.

Hite said they hoped to catch any alternatives with “fatal flaws” at this stage in the game, so they don’t waste their time in additional study.

One of the main considerations is avoiding areas targeted for growth. “It’s essential that we work with the city managers, or town managers,” he said — mustn’t have private developers and DelDOT breaking ground in the same place at the same time.

Despite the bridge over the Indian River, the price tag for the eastern bypasses were “almost comparable” with other options, according to Hite.

On the downside, eastern bypasses would impact between 110 and 140 properties, 38 to 82 potentially historic properties (pass the first criteria of being 50-years-old), between 7 and 14 potential archaeological sites and a few cemeteries.

They would cut through between 104 and 153 acres of forest and disturb between 21 and 28 acres of wetland.

DelDOT representative Bob Kramer (contracted for the public outreach) suggested environmental regulating agencies would always push for the lower of two impacts, but every option affected someone — it was never a slam-dunk.

The key was to counterbalance the negatives with positive impacts on traffic and safety, Kramer said — while remembering the economic and social the communities along the project path in mind, of course.

Despite opposition to on-alignment improvements, they would provide more entrances and exits — every mile or so, as previously noted. And there would be on-alignment improvements between bypasses, one way or another.

By way of contrast, entrances and exits on the bypass plan would be spaced roughly four miles apart. The east bypasses around Millsboro (and Dagsboro) comprise a little more than 15 miles of roadway.

Millsboro resident Dick Swingle said he’d been following the process pretty closely, and definitely had a favorite alternative in mind. However, as Swingle pointed out, “There are a lot of issues here, and this is important to a lot of people, not just me and mine — you have to look at what’s best for the area.”

Frankford resident Robert Tribbitt echoed that sentiment at the Selbyville meeting. “They definitely need to do something for Millsboro,” he said. “It’s worse than [Route] 26.”

Robert Stuart, deputy director for Sussex County Emergency Medical Services (SCEMS), suggested eastern bypasses were the way to go. Stuart admitted he was just one member of the working group, and didn’t represent everyone there, much less the general public.

However, as he pointed out, those alternatives were good for emergency service, and most traffic was headed in that direction anyway. Also, going east would preserve the character of Route 113 through Millsboro, and if DelDOT wanted to exercise an east bypass option, they should act before any more development takes place, he said.

“If they’re going to bite the bullet and build a bridge over the Indian River, now’s the time to do it,” Stuart concluded.

“No decision has been made yet,” Hite said. “[The public] needs to tell us what they want.” Quite a few people were filling out comment cards, so DelDOT should be getting some guidance there.

Next, they’ll pass the alternatives to various environmental agencies for review, and then DelDOT engineers will add their own comments. Department officials planned to narrow the field to one or two nearly-final configurations by next spring.

— Dan Graybill contributed to this article