There are some capital and infrastructure projects that are worth supporting even in a time of financial belt-tightening in Dover. Downstate commuter rail service is one such project. Bringing commuter rail to Middletown, Townsend, Smyrna/Clayton, and even all the way south to Dover, is, in my view, a vital investment in Delaware’s transportation infrastructure.
Lower New Castle County, and northern Kent County, has (and will continue to) experience high levels of population growth and development. As the population of formerly small towns like Odessa and Clayton explodes, it is critical that an adequate transportation infrastructure be in place. Commuter rail service to Wilmington/Philadelphia is a necessary component of such an infrastructure.
Much of the ground work on implementing this project has already been completed. Several studies commissioned earlier in the decade found that service to Middletown would have a viable ridership base, and even selected a route, though in my view, that latter decision is worth revisiting. Regardless, but for the economic crash, and the consequent impact on government budgets in Dover and Washington, commuter rail service to Middletown would probably already be a reality. Although those initial studies deferred an extension south to Dover for the future, I think the population growth that has occurred in the area between Middletown and Dover probably makes such service economical now.
Commuter rail will ease highway congestion, improve our environment, and help foster additional growth and development. We already know that the ridership is there to make this service viable; all that is needed is the capital investments to make it a reality. Although those expenditures are substantial, it is an investment worth making; one which will pay dividends for Delaware and its residents. Long term, as population densities between Middletown and Dover increase, commuter rail service is not going to be some extra convenience on the transportation menu that it would be “nice” to have; it’s going to be a necessity. And in the end, isn’t it better policy to lead with the necessary infrastructure and services, and let development follow, rather then the other way around?