Gray discusses DelDOT, DNREC at ice cream social

Seeking to better accommodate his constituents’ schedules, State Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th) scheduled an evening ice cream social on Oct. 1, providing community updates and dessert to at least 50 people.

Gray reported on the Route 26 Working Group meeting he had attended earlier that day with other community leaders. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) had updated the group on upcoming construction plants. When a constituent asked why the construction bids weren’t made public, Gray said he was unsure. He said he was told two bids were very close, just under State estimates, and two were high.

“I kept wondering if they would tell me who that was, and they haven’t,” Gray said of the disclosure of DelDOT’s bidders.

The winning contractor should be announced at the Route 26 public meeting on Oct. 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. at South Coastal Library.

The construction of the nearly three-year project will generally run from east to west, but in multiple sections at a time, from Assawoman Canal to St. George’s U.M. Church in Clarksville. The widened road will resemble Bethany’s section of Route 26, with three lanes — two travel lanes and a center turn lane.

Gray also discussed on Oct. 1 the blinking school-zone traffic lights at Lord Baltimore Elementary, which were replaced by a sign earlier this year, warning drivers to slow down in the school zone.

Gray, State Sen. Gerald Hocker, school district officials and DelDOT personnel met one morning to watch school traffic, which previously brought Route 26 and Old School Lane to a near-standstill. Since then, Lord Baltimore has adjusted traffic patterns for student drop-off and pick-up, which has helped with that situation.

However, locals also want a return of the flashing yellow lights, which they have said they feel attract more attention than a sign on busy days.

“So we’re going to try to get that back,” said Gray. “DelDOT’s not convinced, but we’re going to try to convince them.”

Although he commended DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt for reducing the agency’s debt, Gray said he felt that DelDOT needs, overall, to communicate better on other issues, such as better entrance access for a Keenwick community or a turn lane that a developer promised and never completed on Ocean View’s Fred Hudson Road.

Drainage was a concern for many people this summer, especially during a deluge that flooded roads and startled residents in mid-July — just a few weeks after legislative session ended.

“We’ve really been inundated by the water,” Gray said.

Several Route 54 communities were concerned about flooding and overall sea-level rise. Gray said he wasn’t taking any side on the sea-level rise debate, but said the Department of Natural Resources has studied a range of sea-level rise from 6 inches to 5 feet, while the Caesar Rodney Institute suggests a 6- to 12-inch range is most likely to be seen.

Either way, Gray said, storm preparedness is important, especially for communities that have a lot of standing water after storms. However, he said, communities can invite the Soil Conservation District to study elevation issues and make recommendations. Even the Department of Corrections can help clear stormwater ponds, he noted.

A Route 54 resident said her community would like to see “someone who can advise us as to what type of insurance we should have” in the low-lying lands.

Hocker on Oct. 1 briefly discussed private communities that have drainage issues. Because some systems were built before state regulations, the State does not have the authority to enter a private community and enforce modern regulations, he noted. Generally, he said, “Taxpayers do not want to help” private communities, and “private property owners don’t want the State coming in.”

Gray said the northern jetty at the Indian River Inlet will undergo repairs made with sand, although he said he was “on the fence” about believing that rip-rap would better hold the jetty.

Another constituent asked when the state legislature is “going to take back control” of DNREC and other agencies.

“I got into office to decrease regulations,” Gray said. Although the State extended gambling in veterans and other fraternal organizations, Gray said he felt even more regulations are coming down the pike. He said Sen. Robert Venables had suggested a moratorium on new regulations until the economy gets going.

A constituent asked why regulations should be stopped if the legislators don’t know what they are yet.

“The next step will be more stringent,” said Gray, who said some contractors are hurrying to finish work before any new regulations are enacted.

“I hope we can control regulations. I hope we can do something about it,” Gray said.

When prompted, Gray said other important issues are healthcare for the elderly (especially as Delaware is a popular retirement destination, but states will pick up more Medicare bills in the future) and education (which he said equals one-third of the state budget, although the U.S. lags behind other nations in education).

Gray encouraged people to attend the Indian River School District’s Common Core information session at Indian River High School on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.

Gray will next host a Coffee’s On Me open forum event on Oct. 29, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Roxana Fire Hall.