President Barack Obama will be in Wilmington to tell the nation with a pen and a phone, he will solve many of our nation’s woes. But Delaware lawmakers see arbitrary desires of some fogging the glasses looking into the state’s series of problems.
With President Barack Obama coming to Wilmington Thursday, State Senator Brian Pettyjohn and State Representative Steve Smyk offered their thoughts to WGMD’s Mike and Jake about the I-495 bridge situation, Governor Jack Markell, and DelDOT’s struggles.
With the President using the I-495 bridges issues setting the background of his visit to Delaware, State Senator Brian Pettyjohn said the problem is that the bridge struggles were not caused by a lack of infrastructure funding like President Obama is pushing.
“They’re making fools of themselves, but the problem is there is a lot of people that are buying it because they are the low information voters, low information citizens out there. They believe everything they hear,” Pettyjohn told Mike and Jake. “The facts are it has nothing to do with the age of the infrastructure.”
Pettyjohn added that those who are trying to make a case that there needs to be infrastructure improvements are looking in the wrong place.
“We’ve got one of the worst bridges in Delaware right here in Millsboro right there where the dam is on Route 24. That’s one of the worst bridges in the state,” explained Pettyjohn. “If you want to point to a bridge that needs work, that’s a good bridge.”
One of the big issues during the legislative session was funding the transportation budget, which Governor Jack Markell wanted to increase with a gasoline tax hike which didn’t see a vote in the General Assembly. But, the governor’s projects have helped put a strain on DelDOT’s budget.
“[DelDOT Secretary] Shailen [Bhatt] is feeling pretty squeezed for some other reasons as well in his budget,” State Representative Steve Smyk told Mike and Jake. “When he has a budget where $30 million is be taken for something that he’s not really not bought into 100%, and that’s those bike paths, he’s going to try to get any money he can get.”
Because DelDOT and Governor Jack Markell could not get their desire gasoline tax increase, DelDOT announced that it would be increasing the weekend tolls on Route 1 and will be borrowing money to make up the difference. Those tolls will increase to $3 on the weekend and remain at $1 during the week. WGMD’s Jake Smith noted that DelDOT could have made a lot of money if it had increased the tolls in time of the Fourth of July holiday weekend instead of raising the price August 1st.
“If they wanted to do it, it should have been done sooner,” said Pettyjohn. “At least start the clock sooner.”
By law, DelDOT must have a month’s worth of time between announcing a toll increase and implementing the increase, which is why August 1st is the date of the hike.
But both Pettyjohn and Smyk say Governor Jack Markell isn’t paying attention to many of Delaware’s issues, many times being too focused on what he wants to do rather than addressing the needs of the state.
“He has his own set agenda,” explained Pettyjohn. “He’s got things he wants to do and I don’t agree with all of them, but there’s a lot of things in state government we need to have a serious look at. But, I think he is so far down the road on his agenda that there is very little room to step back and say ‘Let’s change direction.’”
“His problems are so vast and he’s dedicated himself to some things that I feel we didn’t need,” Smyk told Mike and Jake. “And then when I throw something else on the table like the failing of our systems that he doesn’t know. He’s not coming from inside the government. He doesn’t know what I know about this government.”
And some of these issues permeate into crises like the Medical Examiner’s office and I-495.
“When it comes to the Medical Examiner’s office, when it comes to DelDOT, yeah, I am disappointed that they didn’t catch these things sooner,” Pettyjohn stated. “Also disappointed in DNREC that DNREC didn’t have their eyeballs on what was going on with I-495.”
With these problems going on within Delaware’s government, President Obama will be making the message that with his pen and his phone, he will make things happen. Thursday, the President will use that message and apply it to infrastructure woes facing the nation. But here, within the First State, state officials are looking for their own sets of answers about the responsibility of state government and if arbitrary desires are in the way of seeing the deep and concerning issues facing Delaware.
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Dennis Foley is an award-winning journalist with a strong background in radio and digital reporting, web development, and multimedia production. Dennis is a Long Island native with several youthful years in New Hampshire as well. Professionally, Dennis has won several Associated Press awards as both a news anchor and as a news director. He also reported live during ABC News Radio's Edward R. Murrow award-winning coverage of Hurricane Sandy from Long Island. Dennis' prior stops have included WRHU-FM (Hempstead/Long Island, NY), New Hampshire Public Radio (Concord, NH), ABC News Radio (New York), WRIV (Riverhead, NY), and KEEL (Shreveport-Bossier, LA). He is excited to join 92.7 WGMD and continue the great legacy the station has as being Delmarva's news authority! Feel free to follow Dennis on Twitter: @DennisJFoley