Coun­cil to UD: Pay your share

Ne­wark wants univer­sity to chip in for cross­walk sig­nal

Newark Post - - Front Page - By KARIE SIM­MONS ksim­mons@ches­pub.com

The city of Ne­wark is plan­ning to in­stall a pedes­trian sig­nal at the cross­walk where The Green in­ter­sects Delaware Av­enue to im­prove traf­fic flow, but be­fore coun­cil mem­bers sign off on the project, they want the Univer­sity of Delaware to pay up.

Ac­cord­ing to Tom Cole­man, act­ing city man­ager, the project has not yet been bid, but Del DOT es­ti­mated it will cost ap­prox­i­mately $84,390, which in­cludes an up­grade to a black fluted or­na­men­tal pole and mast arm re­quested by the univer­sity.

Cole­man said UD agreed to fund the $7,408 up­grade and will pay the city when the project is com­plete, but for sev­eral mem­bers of coun­cil, that wasn’t enough.

“I am re­ally dis­ap­pointed that the Univer­sity of Delaware, in my mind, by not com­ing to the table more than what they have, have walked away from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­tect­ing their stu­dents walk­ing across there,” Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said.

City of­fi­cials have been talk­ing about a sig­nal­ized cross­walk on Delaware Av­enue since 2014, but Cole­man said they haven’t had much luck get­ting the univer­sity to chip in more money.

Last year, when the city in­stalled a sim­i­lar sig­nal where The Green in­ter­sects Main Street, it cost tax­pay­ers ap­prox­i­mately $100,000, while UD con­trib­uted an ex­tra $9,000 for fancier poles. UD’s re­quest for the spe­cial-or­der poles de­layed the project by six months.

Cole­man said the sig­nals have to be in­stalled on UD prop­erty and univer­sity of­fi­cials don’t even want them there.

“When we first started this dis­cus­sion, they had no in­ter­est what­so­ever in pay­ing any­thing,” Cole­man said. “Then we got them to pay for the up­grade to the or­na­ment poll.”

He added that state law also does not re­quire a sig- nal there.

“We didn’t have a very strong bar­gain­ing chip,” he said.

Cur­rently, the Delaware Av­enue cross­ing does not have a sig­nal, so cars have to stop when­ever a pedes­trian wishes to cross. Dur­ing peak times when univer­sity stu­dents are chang­ing classes, long lines of stu­dents can keep traf­fic stopped for sev­eral min­utes at a time.

In re­cent years, UD has sta­tioned a po­lice of­fi­cer at Delaware Av­enue to pe­ri­od­i­cally stop pedes­tri­ans and keep traf­fic mov­ing, but city of­fi­cials say a sig- nal­ized cross­walk co­or­di­nated with the traf­fic sig­nal at South Col­lege Av­enue will sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove pedes­trian safety and traf­fic flow, es­pe­cially dur­ing class changes.

Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace said the sit­u­a­tion is not caused solely by Ne­wark tax­pay­ers, so the city should not have to pick up the ma­jor­ity of the tab.

“This is a student safety con­cern and this is also be­ing a good neigh­bor,” she said. “We would not have this prob­lem if it wasn’t for their stu­dents.”

Coun­cil­man Chris Hamil­ton agreed, adding that he is “stunned and sad­dened” by the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion not to con­trib­ute more to a project that will ben­e­fit its stu­dents.

“It’s an em­bar­rass­ment, as some­one who went to the univer­sity, to see that they’re not step­ping up and do­ing their duty,” he said.

If the city in­stalls the sig­nal, Coun­cil­man Stu Markham said, the univer­sity will no longer need to sta­tion a po­lice of­fi­cer there, which frees up that of­fi­cer to do some­thing else. He asked Cole­man if the city ex­pressed that cost sav­ings to the univer­sity in its pre­vi­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions, to which Cole­man said he had and it didn’t help.

Markham sug­gested city of­fi­cials try to ne­go­ti­ate with the univer­sity again, as the two peo­ple Cole­man orig­i­nally spoke with – Scott R. Douglass, UD’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and trea­surer, and Andy Lu­bin, UD’s direc­tor of real es­tate – no longer work there.

Cole­man said de­lay­ing the project a few weeks while city and univer­sity of­fi­cials hash it out won’t re­ally af­fect con­struc­tion, as the project is not es­ti­mated to be com­plete un­til after win­ter break.

Still, Mayor Polly Sierer warned against wait­ing to move for­ward. She sug­gested coun­cil ap­prove the project Mon­day night be­fore go­ing to the univer­sity for more money be­cause time is tick­ing and pedes- trian safety is at risk ev­ery day.

Res­i­dent Jeff Lawrence, how­ever, felt that might do more harm than good. He told coun­cil if the city agrees to pay the larger por­tion be­fore ask­ing UD to chip in more, the city will have less lever­age in its ne­go­ti­a­tion.

“You’re in a much weaker po­si­tion than the first time when they gave you an adamant no,” Lawrence said.

A few res­i­dents sug­gested the univer­sity pay half, but not Katie Gif­ford, who urged the city not to in­stall a sig­nal at all. Gif­ford works at the univer­sity and said a sig­nal will not stop stu­dents from cross­ing il­le­gally. Plus, she said, the UD of­fi­cer is a cheaper and more ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion.

Coun­cil­man Luke Chap­man made a mo­tion that the city and univer­sity split the cost equally.

“Of course, if it doesn’t get funded then the project doesn’t hap­pen,” he said.

But the rest of coun­cil had is­sues with it and the mo­tion failed 1 to 6 with Chap­man as the only vote in fa­vor.

“I pre­fer the art of ne­go­ti­a­tion us­ing the mayor and city man­ager as a first choice over that de­fin­i­tive line in the sand,” Clifton said.

Coun­cil ul­ti­mately de­cided to de­lay a vote un­til June 26, while city of­fi­cials ne­go­ti­ate again with UD.

NE­WARK POST FILE PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

The city is plan­ning to in­stall a pedes­trian sig­nal where The Green in­ter­sects Delaware Av­enue.

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