Pedestrian Caution sign

DelDOT electronic warning sign

"While everyone was hunkering and sheltering in place, we were working like gangbusters out on the roadways."

The Delaware Department of Transportation presented its outlook for the coming Fiscal Year during a Joint Finance Committee's Capital Improvement Committee meeting Wednesday. Secretary Jennifer Cohan said there was no sugarcoating the fact that DelDOT has been just as affected as any organization throughout the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We wanted to go over just a few slides, just let you know where the Transportation Trust Fund stands," said Cohan. "During this this trying time with COVID, we did take a pretty large revenue hit as well."

Despite capitalizing on fewer people being on the roads by working hard at a number of different projects, that lack of people means their resources also saw an impact. That there was a mild winter helped, but not nearly enough. 

"We were very lucky," Cohan said. "We've had a non-eventful snow season, we didn't have hardly any. I think we had one episode, that was it. So we were able to use our emergency snowstorm contingency fund to fund the expenses that we experienced with COVID-19."

They found about $700,000 in support from that fund, but the decrease in traffic since the start of the pandemic is going to lead to millions in lost revenue. 

"Traffic was down for the last three months," Cohan said. "At the height, in early April, it was down 50% during the week, and then about 75, or even 80% on the weekends. So that was a significant hit to motor fuel tax, to tolls, to all of our all of our revenue stream. At the most recent [Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council meeting], our revenue loss for this current Fiscal Year is $63.1 million, and that grows another $24.7 million as we go into Fiscal Year 2021."

A major goal for the department is continuing the projects already underway. Construction, outside of medical and food service industries, remained one of the largest continuing industries still providing jobs and propping up the economy. 

"We really want to make sure that we continue to do that continue to keep those jobs in place and those projects moving," Cohan said. "So in the first round of the CARES act, actually, the Federal Transit Administration provided funding for transit agencies across the country. So Delaware's share of that CARES Act funds for transit was $61.2 million...The Transportation Trust Fund subsidizes transit somewhere between $80 and $90 million every year. So what the FTA CARES Act funds allowed us to do is, instead of subsidizing the transportation trust fund dollars, we were able to use those CARES Act funds to fund...almost 18 months."

She said those funds are a shot in the arm, but they're also limited to their single use. 

"That gave us a $50.4 million credit, for lack of a better term, to the Transportation Trust Fund," she said. "That is a one time deal, but there are conversations going on all over the country right now. If transit does come back, what is that going to look like? To put it in context...our paratransit activities were down 85%, our fixed ridership is down significantly, as well, and train service was pretty much gone."

Going out for additional bond sales and analyzing near-future projects for savings only did so much for the next year-and-a-half, and beyond that time-frame had more questions than answers.

"The Fiscal Year '22 to '26 impacts, we just we just don't know right now," she said, adding later, "We're going to see a very reduced paving list as well. Again, borrowing to make ends meet, that's basically what we're doing right now...to keep those construction jobs moving."

Paving, normally where the department would make reductions for cost savings at any given point, has already been reduced by 20% over the prior year, Cohan said.

"There's just nowhere to take [funds] from anymore. Not this year."