FENWICK ISLAND – Fenwick Island could soon move forward with the first phase of a sidewalk construction project using $250,000 in state capital funds.
On Tuesday, the Fenwick Island Pedestrian Safety Committee met to discuss the town’s strategy for starting construction on a continuous sidewalk along Coastal Highway after working with Representative Ron Gray to secure $250,000 from the state’s bond bill.
“We didn’t know where to find funding or how to get started,” said Councilwoman and committee chair Vicki Carmean. “And then Ron Gray came to the rescue …”
Gray, a member of the state’s Bond Committee, said he initially asked for $500,000 to be placed in the bond bill for the first phase of the sidewalk project, which would include six blocks on the west side of Coastal Highway from James through Dagsboro streets. The bill, however, passed with $250,000 for Fenwick Island.
“In the end, what we did get was $250,000,” he said. “Once that was passed on June 30, the Office of the Controller General sent out a letter to anybody that got money. So a letter will be sent here to Mayor Gene Langan saying there is $250,000 allotted to sidewalks for Fenwick Island.”
To that end, the committee this week questioned how it should proceed with the project. A preliminary report prepared by The Kercher Group, an engineering firm, estimated the first phase of construction to cost $496,266.
“A big part of the question with this $250,000 is what do we do?” Councilman Richard Mais said. “How is the town going to come up with the other $250,000 to do this initial phase?”
Carmean told the committee the $250,000 – coupled with money earmarked for the project – could allow the town to begin construction at the north end of town.
“I think it’s enough to get us started,” she said, “a really good start.”
Town Manager Terry Tieman said the guidelines for using state money would be made clear in the coming days, after the town receives its letter from the Office of the Controller General.
“Every good news comes with a little bit of bad news,” Carmean added. “The bad news for us isn’t that bad. It’s just that we don’t know how to get started, and we need to take that first step.”
The committee agreed, however, that it would continue to pursue a town-led construction project in the hopes of saving money.
Earlier this year, the Delaware Department of Transportation presented town officials with a $10 million cost estimate to complete two miles of sidewalk along the town’s main corridor. Roughly 20%, or $2 million, of the project would be the town’s responsibility.
“When you use federal dollars, there are certain things they have to do,” Tieman said. “They have to examine the surrounding environment and all the studies add up. The other thing is the prevailing minimum wage.”
Tieman said the town could reach out to The Kercher Group for a more detailed cost estimate and construction plans after receiving its notice from the state.
“I would really like to get that letter first just to make sure we are not doing something that would prohibit us from getting the money,” she said.
Gray told the committee funding for the project was warranted.
“I think it’s a great project for the town,” he said. “A lot of Delawareans from up north come down to Fenwick Island, and we want them to be safe while they are here.”
Councilwoman Julie Lee agreed.
“It is a safety issue,” she said. “There’s no question about it.”
Tieman said she would like to see construction begin before the next summer season.
“This is the toughest section,” she said. “If we get this done, then we will really be saying something.”
Lee added that starting on the west side of Coastal Highway would benefit pedestrians. She noted that those on the east side of Coastal Highway could easily use Bunting Avenue – a block off of Fenwick’s main corridor – to walk from one end of town to another.
“On the east side, there is a thoroughfare people can walk from one end of the town to another,” she said, “whereas on the west side there is no option. I think that’s the big issue.”
Without a quorum, the committee could not vote on a course of action at Tuesday’s meeting. The group did, however, agree to wait for communication from the state before moving forward with the project.
“When you look at where we were a year ago compared to now, we are in a much better position,” Tieman said. “We know a lot more than we did, and we have a lot more money now too.”