Group officially recommends long eastern bypass

The 25-member working group made up of civic leaders coming Millsboro south to Selbyville have officially recommended building a highway that will bypass U.S. 113 from north of Millsboro to south of Frankford.

Some 19 out of the members — more than the 75 percent needed to file an official recommendation with state transportation officials — favored the plan, and more supported a plan to create a highway through Selbyville only accessible by entrance and exit ramps.

The recommendations were consistent with debate amongst the working group members at recent meetings, with officials north of Selbyville favoring an eastern bypass that will help relieve congestion on east-west highways while not isolating businesses on either side of U.S. 113.

Selbyville officials went on the record, favoring the limited-access highway in the town that was officially recommended last week — and which would come with a connector to Route 54. Relieving east-west congestion has been a constant in discussions throughout the process, with many worried that north-south projects have taken precedence over others that could help to relieve congestion on major east-west evacuation routes, such as Route 26 and Route 54.

Transportation officials have defended those north-south projects — like ones to study options to relieve future congestion on U.S. 113 and another to widen Route 1 in Lewes — contending that they are needed to avert future congestion issues.

According to Hite, DelDOT will use the working group’s formal recommendation when making its decision to recommend an alternative to U.S. 113 this fall. It is unclear how much impact that recommendation will have on a final decision. Hite said the recommendation will be used as a portion of the “public involvement process.”

The agency will host public hearings after announcing a favored alternative and plans to select a “preferred” alternative early next year. That would allow DelDOT to begin purchasing land in anticipation of one day building the road.

An eastern bypass option, though, still faces hurdles with environmental entities — including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources — which could shoot down any plan they deem too harmful to the environment.

Opposition from the local environmental community — including Center for the Inland Bays Watershed Coordinator Josh Thompson, who served on the committee — was overcome by others who worried that a limited-access highway would hurt U.S. 113-based businesses and preferred the eastern bypass option.