Narrow Delaware beach highway under threat from climate change

High water sits on Rt. 1 near Conquest Rd. south of Dewey Beach

File photo: High water sits on Rt. 1 near Conquest Rd. south of Dewey Beach (Chuck Snyder/WHYY)

Even on sunny days, southern Delaware’s Route 1 has been overtopped with water from tidal flooding between Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island. Tropical storms and even nor’easters also threaten to cut off access to the highway that runs along a thin strip of land between the ocean and the bay.

That’s why the state launched a study with help from consulting firm AECOM to determine how to make the road more resistant to flooding threats.

“The SR1 corridor between Dewey Beach and the Maryland state line is particularly vulnerable, with effects coming from both the ocean as well as the bay,” said Nicole Majeski, state transportation secretary. “This planning study will allow the department to develop short- and long-term solutions to help protect this important roadway for both the safety of the traveling public and the economic stability of the state.”

Keeping the roadway open and available to travelers is especially important as the highway is a primary evacuation route for Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, and Ocean City, Maryland.

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As part of the study, the state is asking frequent users of the road to fill out a survey about their travels and weigh in on what priorities are most important when considering protecting the highway. A final technical report on the study will be published early next year. By the end of 2023, the state will submit grant applications for future projects to address these issues.

“One of our goals at DelDOT is to examine the impacts climate change and sea level rise are having on our transportation infrastructure and incorporate resilient and sustainable mitigation measures in the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of our projects as the lowest lying state,” she said.

Majeski testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday in a hearing about how states are putting the infrastructure law that passed Congress last year to work.

“As the lowest lying state, Delaware is seeing firsthand the effects of climate change and sea level rise,” she told the committee. “We estimate that $1 billion worth of our existing infrastructure is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

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She pointed to Gov. John Carney’s climate action plan introduced last year as part of the way the state is working to both reduce its contributions to climate change and prepare for its impact.

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