GEORGETOWN — It’s been years, perhaps even decades, in the making, but a project that could elevate Sussex County to new economic horizons is finally beginning.
Ground was officially broken Tuesday for Phase 1 of the Department of Transportation’s Park Avenue Relocation Project, a linchpin in the county’s business growth and its plan to extend Delaware Coastal Airport’s main runway.
“Just to put it into perspective, we held our first public workshop on this project in August of 2016, after the county identified Park Avenue relocation as one of its priorities,” said DelDOT Secretary Nicole Majeski. “There has been a lot of work that has happened over the last six years to get to this point.”
Airport expansion has been up in the air even before that, said Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent.
“You’ve got to go back in the ’90s, as the previous councils realized the airport needs to be expanded. And they started buying property to do that,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., joined county and state officials at the Tuesday groundbreaking, a short distance from the airport property.
“This is a team effort. Teamwork makes the dream work,” he said. “This project has been the apple of a lot of people’s eyes for a long time.”
Relocation of a portion of Park Avenue will allow for a 500-foot extension of Runway 4-22 to 6,000 feet. That length would enable the county-owned airport — which can currently serve 737s — to accommodate larger 757 aircraft, such as Boeing business jets and similar planes.
“What is great about this project is it (is) not only a safety project,” Ms. Majeski said. “It is going to help with congestion management. It is going to help us improve freight movement, and it is going to spur economic development. It is covering a lot of bases. This project will not only realign Park Avenue so that the expansion of the runway will be able to happen here, but it is going to improve safety.”
Phase 1 plans include:
“The reason we want it to be at least 6,000 (feet) long is because it will bring in more aircraft for business, and it will strengthen the economy here in Sussex County,” said Sen. Carper. “We’re going to fly. This will create jobs. It will be a good thing for years to come.”
The county’s administrator, Todd Lawson, reflected on the project’s long planning period.
“Exactly 10 years ago, on the other side of those trees, we announced the (500-foot) extension of the runway, and we’ve been working 10 years to get to this point, Senator. It’s a great day,” he said. “We couldn’t be here without the senator’s support. You’re a champion for this airport.”
Mr. Lawson said the county, through its council’s support, spent 20 years acquiring about 30 properties along the road. “We contributed those lands to DelDOT at a very decent price, ... in the hope that this project would be jump-started,” he noted. “Eventually, we’ll get that second 500 feet at the airport.”
Phase 1 of the two-phased Park Avenue project will cost about $25 million, supported by an 80% federal/20% state funding ratio. Delaware’s portion will come from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. The first phase is expected to be a two-year project, said DelDOT Deputy Secretary Shante Hastings.
“This is your Transportation Trust Fund money at work. Your gas tax, your registration fees, things like that — that is what goes into the Transportation Trust Fund, and that is what is paying the state’s portion of this,” said Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.
“It is a project that, again, is a long time coming and very much needed in the Georgetown area for a lot of different reasons. The primary reason is for that business development, the job growth that we are going to be able (to) experience out there to the airport.”
Scheduled to begin in 2024, Phase 2 will entail improvements to Park Avenue’s intersection with U.S. 9, including reconstruction of both roads to provide appropriate turn lanes, signals and railroad-crossing upgrades.