Fenwick officials ready to tackle sidewalks again

The Town of Fenwick Island had dreams of new sidewalks to safely connect the town. Over the past decade, they added a few sidewalks, but in many places, pedestrians must still tiptoe around traffic or through parking lots.

On July 7, most of the town council and a few others gathered to broach the topic again, under the new Pedestrian Safety & Sidewalk Committee.

Council Member Vicki Carmean estimated that half the town has sidewalks, but they aren’t all ADA-compliant. Town officials definitely see a need for it.

“In my mind, the biggest thing is safety,” said Town Manager Terry Tieman. “When I pull out of here sometimes, I’m boggled by the amount of traffic and the pedestrians all over the place.”

“We don’t want an accident to happen, but it’s waiting to happen,” Carmean said.

With preliminary studies dating back to the early 2000s, council members recall that the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) had prioritized Fenwick sidewalks on a list of potential projects. But it never happened.

For years, Fenwick’s had their eye on better sidewalks.

“[The] commercial core is not a safe, welcoming environment for pedestrians and bicyclists,” reads the Town’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. “There are gaps in the sidewalk system, relatively narrow widths that do not accommodate pedestrians walking side-by-side or in passing directions, utilities and signs located within the sidewalks, and numerous parking lot curb cuts which create dangerous conflicts.”

“It would really pull our town together aesthetically,” Carmean said. “Our businesses would benefit. Our town would benefit.”

It could also relieve foot traffic on the beach-side Bunting Avenue, where walkers, runners and strollers are all jockeying for room.

“It seems to me every town in Delaware has a sidewalk on their main street,” said Carmean.

Fenwick is tricky because its “main street” is Coastal Highway (Route 1). There isn’t even enough sidewalk to connect the town hall to Route 54, which is just outside the town’s southern border.

Now, Fenwick’s first step is to contact DelDOT again. The Town will want support, financing and permission to dig up the right-of-way.

Whatever happens will be a very expensive project, officials acknowledge, so the Town would likely build in phases. It’s been so long that Fenwick might need to update their $64,000 surveys of topography and rights-of-way.

Six years ago, construction alone was estimated at about $500,000, not including engineering and other expenses. Inflation will only drive that price upward. There are several payment options to explore: request DelDOT funding; find other private or government grants; borrow the money and repay it slowly; or assess properties with a tax.

“We need to be prepared to pay for it ourselves,” said Councilman Richard Mais, adding that he is open to the idea of an assessment on property owners.

The town charter also states that property owners can be asked to build or repair sidewalks immediately adjacent to their lots. And all commercial sites with new buildings (or substantial improvements) must now install sidewalks in front of their property. That has helped close some sidewalk gaps in town, although Fenwick’s still looking at a long path forward.

The Pedestrian Safety & Sidewalk Committee will meet again Friday, Aug. 18, at 10 a.m.