Council to UD: Pay your share
Newark wants university to chip in for crosswalk signal
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.
The city is planning to install a pedestrian signal where The Green intersects Delaware Avenue.