FENWICK ISLAND – Officials say easement work continues as the town prepares for a sidewalk construction project along Coastal Highway.
Last Thursday, members of the Fenwick Island Pedestrian Safety Committee reviewed ongoing efforts to install sidewalks along five bayside blocks from Dagsboro to Indian streets. Working with the town’s solicitor, Councilman Ed Bishop, committee chair, noted that Fenwick Island officials are currently in the process of securing easements from property owners along Coastal Highway.
“We had the town’s attorney prepare easement paperwork whereby each of the property owners would be required to sign the easement paperwork for us to enter the property and perform the work,” he explained. “So those were sent out in early December, and so far we have had one firm commitment to do a whole block between Essex and Farmington [streets]. Then we are pretty sure we have signed paperwork to do most of the areas from Dagsboro to Essex.”
In 2019, Fenwick Island initiated the first phase of its sidewalk construction project, which included six bayside blocks south of James Street. And last February, the Fenwick Island Town Council signed off on a contract with Century Engineering to begin design work for the first phase of construction this year.
In recent months, however, officials have had to scale back the size of the project to roughly five blocks after learning the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) would require the town to install a new traffic light on the north side of Fenwick Island.
In last week’s update, co-chair Vicki Carmean said the light’s installation would have cost the town an estimated $120,000.
“My feeling is the state should be responsible for maintaining state highways,” she said. “Why should the town’s taxpayers pay for a traffic light the state should take care of?”
Carmean added that the town had already set aside more than $600,000 to complete the first phase of a sidewalk project in the state’s right-of-way.
She pointed out that Fenwick Island has been waiting decades for DelDOT to complete a sidewalk construction project in town.
“Asking Fenwick to pay $600,000 for sidewalks is a lot of money …,” she said. “Enough is enough. The state needs to step up.”
Officials noted the goal of the sidewalk construction project is to make Fenwick Island safe for pedestrians and improve access to local businesses. The first phase of the project calls for 5-foot-wide, ADA-compliant sidewalks, as well as a buffer area between the sidewalk and neighboring commercial properties.
“Basically, the owners will get the benefit of sidewalks that will bring visitors to them and make it easier for them to access these buildings,” Carmean said.
Bishop told committee members last week the town has completed an engineering study and design work, and has issued a request for proposals to find a contractor. Before work can proceed, however, the town is seeking easements from commercial property owners.
“We need to do some additional follow-up with the remaining business owners from Farmington to Indian,” he said. “We’ve had some no’s and noncommittals. So we are working on it.”
Carmean encouraged town officials to set a deadline for easement work so that construction can begin.
“They either sign or don’t,” she said. “If not, we can direct the money to other blocks that are committed to sidewalks.”
Bishop said the installation of sidewalks might also encourage DelDOT to support a state-led sidewalk project in town.
“We are hoping by doing these four or five blocks, it will show DelDOT we are serious about this, and that they will finish the rest,” he said.
Carmean pointed out that the construction of the remaining sidewalks had moved to No. 24 on the agency’s list of upcoming transportation projects.
“We were in the top 10 at one point …,” she said. “But they keep reshuffling the deck.”
During public participation, Warren’s Station owner Scott Mumford questioned who would be responsible for any potential damages that could occur on the owner’s property.
“Once those sidewalks go in, the town must maintain them …,” Carmean replied. “No property owner should have to be responsible, ever.”
Committee member Tim Leahy also questioned if the contractor would need to work around signage and other structures within the right-of-way.
“Are there any structures that will need to be moved?” he said.
Bishop noted that two signs would need to be moved as part of the first phase of the project. Officials said it was included in the construction contract.
“Any removal of the sign is incorporated into the cost …,” Carmean said. “The owner should incur no cost and very little inconvenience.”
After further discussion, the committee agreed to explore a deadline for easement work. Bishop noted that the hired construction company was eager to begin the first phase of the project.
“We want to do it now while traffic is as light as possible,” he said.