State officials celebrated a newly completed extension of a bike trail connecting Lewes to Rehoboth Beach on Monday.
The new 1.5 mile stretch, running along Freeman Highway, extends the Junction Breakwater Trail to 7.5 miles. The $1.2 million addition took a year to construct.
An estimated 50,000 people used the Junction Breakwater trail in the past year. Mary Ridgway of the Federal Highway Administration says that means the extension will be a boon for the area.
“It is going to grow the economy," said Ridgeway. "It’s probably already increasing home values, it’s creating jobs for the tourist industries and businesses that spring up around the trail. And it provides an alternate mode of transportation and it increases the safety because it takes those cars off the road and puts bicyclists on the trails."
Rehoboth Beach resident Rick Locke was one of about 30 cyclists who showed up for the ribbon-cutting. Locke has been using the trail since it opened in 2003, when it was approximately three miles long.
“And I’ve seen all the additions over the years. The governor’s really done a good job of adding things to it. In the last few years, we’ve seen more growth in the bike department than we ever had," said Locke.
The extension runs along Freeman Highway and between residential developments, allowing access to places like Gordons Pond and Tanger Outlets. Some neighbors worried the bike traffic would be a nuisance. Residents in the Breakwater Estates development even filed a suit to stall construction, but made little progress.
Until now, cyclists have had to use Gills Neck Road to get to Lewes. It's a narrow road with no shoulder, which posed safety hazards for riders. Sussex Cyclists president John Kurpjuweit says safety is an important reason to expand trails like Junction Breakwater.
"One of the things that keeps people from riding is the fear of the traffic on the road," said Kurpjuweit. "Many of us who are experienced [bikers] are used to the traffic because we’ve been at it for a long time. But we want more people to join it and in order for them to do that, they have to find safe places to ride significant distances other than just the cul-de-sac and the neighborhood."
The Junction Breakwater extension builds on Gov. Markell’s Trails and Pathways Initiative to expand bike routes up and down the state. Earlier this year, Delaware was ranked the third most bike-friendly state in the nation. Funds pending, DelDot hopes to extend Junction Breakwater again and lengthen the trail across the Lewes-Rehoboth canal to Rehoboth Avenue.