FENWICK ISLAND – Officials in Fenwick Island this week agreed to explore other options for building a continuous sidewalk system along Coastal Highway after receiving a cost estimate of nearly $10 million.
In its first meeting since September, the Fenwick Island Pedestrian Safety Committee on Tuesday agreed to pursue a new course of action for funding and building a continuous sidewalk system in town after learning a recent feasibility study valued the project at roughly $10 million.
Last April, the town agreed to fund $14,000, or 20 percent, of a study initiated by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) in the hopes of determining a financially feasible approach to installing sidewalks along Coastal Highway.
The feasibility study, presented to the town earlier this year, included both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of town between Route 54 and the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s way overpriced and way over what we can handle as a town,” Councilwoman Vicki Carmean, chair of the committee, said.
With the help of federal grants, Fenwick Island would be responsible for funding 20 percent, or roughly $2 million, of the project. But committee members this week questioned if the project could be completed at a lower cost.
Committee member Bill Weistling said the state’s estimated cost for completing roughly eight northbound blocks within the town’s corporate limits totaled $3.25 million. But he noted estimates from local engineers were substantially lower than those found in the study.
“DelDOT is giving a price closer to $10 million,” he said. “I think the project can be done for less.”
Members of the committee agreed to the idea of the town pursuing its own sidewalk project within the corporate limits, but questioned if DelDOT officials would be supportive of their plans.
“I think we need to see if they support us doing this ourselves,” Mayor Gene Langan said. “If they do, because we are going on their property, we move forward with getting a price for engineering three blocks, doing it in three-block increments, and figure out where we get the money.”
Weistling, however, said he took issue with the fact the town would be paying for sidewalks in the state right of way.
“It still comes back to the fact that no matter what we do, why are we paying for DelDOT sidewalks?” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
While he agreed with Weistling, Councilman Richard Mais said the town needed to move forward.
“For us to do it our way will be cheaper coming out of our pocket than if we do it through the state,” he said. “I don’t like it either, but I’d like to see it get done.”
“They are not going to come up with the money. They’ve done the study and given us the cost,” she said. “That’s the front-door approach, and we need to find a window to go through.”
Town Manager Terry Tieman noted the town could apply for federal grants and community transportation funds and divide the project into phases or blocks.
“In the end it’s about how much you want the sidewalks,” she said. “If you wait on DelDOT, you are going to wait a long time.”
After further discussion, the committee made a favorable recommendation to speak with DelDOT representatives and, with the support of the transportation agency, contact an engineering firm to gather estimates for a town-led sidewalk project.
“I don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot with DelDOT,” Langan said. “We need to have a conversation with them.”