Coastal Hwy. drainage project planned at Rt. 54 intersection

It’s dangerous to drive across flooded roadways. But people don’t feel they have a choice when Coastal Highway floods at the Route 54 intersection.

Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is trying to alleviate some of the drainage problems at this low-lying, but critical evacuation route.

“We’re just looking at some additional drainage in there, like a pipe that drains the intersection quickly, so you don’t have all that standing water down there,” said DelDOT’s Nelson Kesselring, the project manager.

“We’re just adding to an existing system [of pipes] and running it up on the backside of Route 1 to an outfall. Hopefully, having a bigger pipe with the inlets, it’ll drain the intersection more quickly.”

They just need to expand to the existing drainage system that collects and redirects stormwater from the roads directly to the inland bays. The water is not filtered, which is common.

Asked about more environmentally sensitive alternatives that filter or slow water before it enters the environment, he said, “We try to do bio-retention areas. Given a situation we’ll try to do that,” but if there’s an existing outfall in the area, that will likely be the chosen method.

Thanks to road cameras, DelDOT staff see the flooding that occurs, even during summertime thunderstorms (besides the tropical storms and nor’easters).

But people shouldn’t expect a silver bullet in this project. The intersection is flanked by the ocean and the bay, less than 1,000 feet in either direction.

“We’re at sea level, so it’s kind of hard of hard to drain Delaware,” Kesselring said.

Nearby, just within the corporate limits of Fenwick Island, town officials look forward to the project.

“We had a couple instances this last summer where we had downpours, and traffic was backed up quite a-ways into town, and it made navigation around town really difficult,” said Town Manager Terry Tieman.

Kesselring hopes this South District maintenance project will be completed before summer 2020, but that depends on the design and contracting. Engineers still have to design the project before answering any more questions about it. The cost hasn’t been determined. The outfall location hasn’t been determined.

The goal is to only cut up Route 54, not Route 1 itself, but the Route 1 intersection will benefit from this project. There may be lane closures or shifts, but the goal is to minimize impacts during construction.

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter