“Our state is sinking,” Sen. Tom Carper said at Port Mahon Road, east of Dover.
Scattered with reeds and horseshoe crab shells, Port Mahon Road near the town of Little Creek gives fishermen and birdwatchers a mostly dirt passage to the bay and is in need of constant maintenance due to strong storms and high tides.
“It’s becoming more and more of a struggle every year,” said Delaware Department of Transportation central district engineer Matt Lichtenstein, whose team leads maintenance of the road.
Sen. Tom Carper and DelDOT officials met at Port Mahon Road Monday morning as they toured frequently flooded roads and bridges in the state, highlighting a $287 billion transportation bill that is the first of its kind to include measures for climate change resilience and mitigation.
“Our state is sinking,” said Carper, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works committee. He said rising sea levels might mean the state should close roads like Port Mahon, which has low-volume traffic, or fix the roads to make them more resilient.
Lichtenstein pointed out that Port Mahon Road provides important access to a fuel point for the Dover Air Force Base, two commercial businesses and a recreational boat ramp.Still, Lichtenstein and Carper agreed that fixing a road like this one would be expensive.
“I think people don’t want us to waste their money. But, I think the thing to do is put ourselves in the shoes of the people whose communities are being affected, and ask them to be a part of the solution,” Carper said.
Shante Hastings, DelDOT chief engineer, said that they have not established a long-term plan for Port Mahon road. DelDOT engineers have already moved the road farther west, but Lichtenstein said that adds pressure on the wetlands there.
“That’s something we certainly want to minimize as much as possible,” Lichtenstein said.
Hastings said that while some funds come from a variety of state sources, such as the motor fuel tax, fees from the Department of Motor Vehicles and tolls, infrastructure projects often rely on federal funding.
America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, the bipartisan bill that passed through the Environment and Public Works committee July 30, would give Delaware over $1 billion, with $15.53 million going toward making roads, highways and bridges more resilient to climate change. The state would be eligible for additional funding from competitive grants.
But, that’s not the only way the bill addresses climate change.
“The other thing we can do is not only address the symptoms of the problems, but actually do something about the root cause. And the root cause of why the seas are rising is because we have too much carbon in the air,” Carper said. A lot of that carbon dioxide comes from cars, vans and trucks, he added.
The bill designates $11.85 million to the state’s efforts to lower carbon emissions. Additional competitive grants would help Delaware install electric charging stations in every train station and park & ride in the state over the next two years.
For years, a portion of highway infrastructure money has come from gas and diesel sales. Carper said changes in the auto industry would prompt the need for a tax that charges people by the miles they travel. The state currently taxes Delawareans 23 cents per gallon.
Carper said that the bipartisan bill, with $10 billion dedicated to addressing climate change, won the vote of committee members once known as climate change deniers, such as Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
“Actually, there used to be a lot of climate change deniers in Congress, [but] not so much anymore,” Carper said. “The president hasn’t come around yet. It would be helpful if he did.”
DelDOT will be hosting a capital transportation hearing in Dover Sept. 23 from 4 -7 p.m., where community members can suggest infrastructure projects and hear about what DelDOT has planned.