[Rep. Quinn Johnson] Road Work Ahead: Investing in our Infrastructure

Earlier this year, I was proud to join my fellow Democrats in the General Assembly in leading the effort to boost investment in Delaware’s roads, bridges and highways. Soon, we will start seeing the real results of this action up and down the state, on major roads as well as local streets. Over the coming months and years, we can look forward to a safer transportation network, more good-paying, reliable middle-class jobs and the economic growth that’s been proven to accompany public investments in infrastructure.

The legislation we passed in June secured an estimated $330 million in new funding for road work during the next six years in Delaware. This year, an additional $50 million will be dedicated to repaving and bridge maintenance work statewide, enough to pave 388 miles of road and repair 66 bridges.

With this new money, DelDOT reports that 51 new or previously delayed transportation projects will now move forward across the state, making a serious dent in the backlog of projects on the books. In addition, more than 40 other projects that were already in the pipeline will now progress without any question about whether or not the necessary funding will be there when it’s needed.

On our morning commutes or our trips to the grocery store, Delawareans know that our state’s transportation network is aging. The roads we rely on are less safe when they’re in need of repair and overwhelmed by traffic demands that far outpace their original designs – factors that also affect our quality of life and the money we have to spend on vehicle maintenance and gas.

The good news is, we also know that infrastructure improvements actually boost quality of life by shortening commute times and facilitating easier access to employment for many workers. Smart road improvements have even been linked to higher property values.

The list of forthcoming infrastructure projects made possible with the funding secured this year will bring those benefits to all three counties. Here are just a few examples:

  • An auxiliary lane on Del. 1 from U.S. Route 40 to Del. 273 will ease congestion at a critical chokepoint south of I-95. This project was previously delayed due to a lack of funds, but is now scheduled to move toward construction in the next year.
  • An interchange at U.S. Route 40 and Del. 896 in Newark, a project which also was delayed due to a lack of funds.
  • Planning for a bypass along U.S. 13 in Camden, a new project to ease congestion that has been added to DelDOT’s list with newly available funds.
  • In Sussex County, a connector road from Del. 1 to New Road in Lewes, another new project that will reduce delays traveling to and from Delaware’s beaches.

With the new infrastructure funds dedicated this year, the General Assembly also implemented stricter controls on transportation funding to ensure that the money is spent wisely.

A lock-box provision added to the funding bill mandates that the new money cannot be used to fill other budgetary holes and must be spent solely on infrastructure projects. In addition, the General Assembly also acted to transfer more of DelDOT’s operating expenses out of the annual transportation budget, a move that helps control costs and provides greater long-term stability for our transportation fund.

DelDOT has also done its part to make sure the agency gets the most value out of every dollar available for infrastructure projects. A new project prioritization system ranks projects according to greatest need, using data about vehicle crashes, congestion and future growth, while a commitment to reduce DelDOT’s overall debt means more funding is available for work, rather than for interest payments.

This renewed commitment to Delaware’s infrastructure was not easy to achieve in the General Assembly this year, and I’m proud of my fellow legislators for doing the right thing. As new transportation improvements begin to take shape across the state in the near future, bringing new jobs and spurring the economy, I’m confident that we’ll look back and realize the choice we made to invest more in our roads and bridges should have been an easy one.

-State Representative Quinn Johnson

 

The above op-ed was featured on DelawareOnline.