Project Update (This site last updated January 24, 2014)
The US 301 Mainline project continues to move forward. The Department is in the process of acquiring the necessary property/right-of-way, completing final design, preparing construction contract documents, securing the necessary environmental permits, and working with the utility companies as they proceed with advanced utility relocations.
Over the past couple of years, construction costs have held steady at approximately $400 million. Since a significant portion of construction costs for roads are paid for with borrowing, the cost of debt service is very important and that, of course, depends on the level of interest rates. During the time period of April 2013 to September 2013, interest rates increased a percentage point, from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent. This means that the annual borrowing cost for this project, if rates remain at 6.5 percent, has increased by $4 million.
In 2013, Secretary Bhatt felt it prudent to have an updated traffic and revenue study conducted by another firm. This most recent projected traffic analysis Traffic & Revenue Report - November 2013 represents a substantial decrease in the number of vehicles that are expected to use future US 301. This represents a fundamental change in DelDOT's historical assumptions about how the road will be paid for. Until these latest developments, the expectation was that about two-thirds of the construction costs ($400 million) would be funded with toll-backed revenue bonds, and one-third would be funded with financing from the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) called TIFIA financing. As a result of the projected decrease in vehicles using US 301, DelDOT's ability to borrow through its toll backed revenue bonds would be significantly reduced and therefore, DelDOT believes there may be a shortfall. So whereas previously, the state would not have had to come up with additional funds beyond the US DOT financing and the toll-backed revenue bonds, the state would now be responsible for additional funding.
DelDOT will need to consult with the General Assembly about how this project compares to other projects where state capital would be invested. DelDOT also needs to weigh carefully the impact of not building the road now, and its effect on near-term and long-term economic activity in the surrounding area. The timing of construction of the road will also be an important component of the conversation. As a result, in addition to the steps outlined above, DelDOT will be engaging a variety of stakeholders, including members of the General Assembly, affected municipalities, the construction community and developers whose projects were predicated on this road being built. This process may take some time and DelDOT will report findings and conclusions as soon as the information is available.Recent Project History
As presented and discussed at the September, 2011 public workshop, one of the critical next steps for the US 301 project was to update the Construction Financial Plan and, if acceptable, present it to the Governor by the end of 2011. Secretary of Transportation Shailen Bhatt reviewed all of the necessary information and on December 20, 2011 he sent a letter to the local state legislators updating them on the US 301 project, specifically the financial plan.
In his letter, Secretary Bhatt reaffirmed the need to build US 301 to "improve public safety and importantly provide critical transportation infrastructure in one of the state's largest growth areas." Additionally, new US 301 "will create jobs, help grow our economy and maintain our quality of life." Secretary Bhatt also noted in his letter that although traffic volume estimates have been reduced, construction and land acquisition costs are significantly lower than previously projected. Secretary Bhatt therefore has decided that there is a need for "greater clarity on both projected revenues and costs before we will be in a position to present a detailed plan for financing" the new US 301. Secretary Bhatt has asked for a review of recent traffic projections and additional information about the projected number of trucks and cars that are expected to shift from I-95 to US 301. Secretary Bhatt stated "I have made this decision because I believe the additional review will provide a more precise understanding of these projections, which will result in better financial planning, as well as enhanced public confidence in the resulting plan to finance this important road. Once we have received and evaluated the additional information, we will be in a better position to present for your consideration a well-thought-out plan of financing to make this project a reality."
The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) conducted a public workshop for the US 301 Project Development initiative on September 6, 2011, between the hours of 3:00 and 8:00 PM at the Middletown Volunteer Fire Company in Middletown, Delaware (postponed from August 31, 2011 due to inclement weather.) The purpose of the public workshop was to update the public on the overall project activities since the March 2009 workshop, present materials for review, and provide citizens with an opportunity to comment upon the current design refinements proposed for the new US 301.
The workshop provided large table-top 100-scale roll maps showing the current design for each Design Section. In addition, detailed design plans were available: final or semi-final plans for sections of the US 301 Mainline and preliminary plans for the US 301 Spur Road. Among the design updates and additional design refinements proposed since the March 23, 2009 workshop were:
Other topics presented for review were updates on mitigation, cultural resources archaeology, the real estate acquisition process, funding concepts, traffic trends and toll considerations.
In addition to numerous display boards, a PowerPoint presentation was made at 3:15, 4:15, 5:15, 6:15 and 7:15. The presentations provided an orientation to the workshop and an explanation of what was being presented and where that information could be located in the display hall. Each workshop attendee was provided a project update summary and layout of the display room and a comment form. Included among the displays were large displays of the design concepts for each Design Section. Members of the US 301 Project Team were on hand to provide answers and guide citizens through the information presented.
About 200 people attended the workshop. Comments were provided at the workshop and through the end of the comment period, which ended on September 30, 2011. The public had the opportunity to comment by submitting written comments at the workshop or by fax, email, mail or online using the US 301 website, www.us301.deldot.gov.
With the September, 2011 workshop concluded, the Project Teamís next steps will focus on completing construction contract documents for the mainline sections of US 301, developing detailed design plans for the SR 896/Bethel Church Road Interchange (fix the sharp curve and remove the traffic signal south of Summit Bridge), preparing semi-final design plans for the Spur Road, identifying and acquiring necessary right-of-way for the US 301 Mainline and developing a financial plan to fund the construction of the US 301 Mainline.
It continues to be important to preserve the US 301 corridor to meet the current and future transportation needs of this important growth area. The goal is to be in a position to move forward with construction when key factors (traffic, revenues, costs and market conditions) result in an acceptable Construction Plan of Finance to sell Toll Revenue Bonds that minimize risk to the State and the Transportation Trust Fund.
New US 301 will support a significant amount of growth and economic development in southern New Castle County and lead to thousands of permanent and temporary construction related jobs. Southern New Castle County is projected to be one of the fastest growing areas within the state of Delaware with 87% of the county's projected population growth expected to take place in the southern part of the county.