State committee endorses pricey, private garage tunnel

Betsy PriceGovernment, Headlines


This rendering of a new legislative parking garage at MLK Boulevard and Water Street shows how designers are trying to capture the historic brick look of the area. By StudioJEAD.

A state building committee voted Friday to build a private tunnel from a planned parking deck into Legislative Hall to allow elected officials to safely walk from secured parking spots into the building without interaction with the public.

Right now, the legislators park in marked parking spots with their names clearly marked on them around the capital building.

The tunnel was one of three choices, including a marked crosswalk and a pedestrian bridge.

The Legislative Building Committee vote passed despite warnings from StudioJAED designers that the tunnel likely would cost about $3.7 million even though it had been budgeted at $2 million.

It would be narrow and likely to bother people who don’t like small spaces, would require existing utilities to be moved and could face water problems because the tunnel floor would be only six feet above sea level in an area that deals with rising water, the designers have said.


This StudioJAED rendering shows the breadth of the Legislative Hall expansion project.

Tunnel = security

Jesse Chadderdon, chief of staff of the Delaware State Senate Majority Caucus, noted several times in recent months that private tunnel had been recommended by Capital Police.

“I don’t think we should gloss over the fact that we have a recommendation from Capitol Police about creating secure access, and I think it’d be a shame if we move forward with the project and didn’t address that in a meaningful way,” Chadderton said Friday. “I think at a minimum, if we are talking about pivoting back to an above surface crosswalk, we should ask Capitol Police to talk about how they might provide a security plan for that.”

Capitol Police have for years suggested that legislators take their names off their parking spaces to enhance security. None have.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, agreed that a security plan for a crosswalk was good, but said he didn’t see the point in having a tunnel restricted only to legislators and some staff.

“As legislators, we’re out and about all the time, and a lot of times we are in groups, sometimes large groups together out in the community and events and things like that,” Pettyjohn said. “We’ve never been as protected, and we shouldn’t be, as, say, the judges. We are the public-facing senators and representatives out there in the community.”

Pettyjohn noted that senators and representatives come in and leave at different times, according to various meetings, even on legislative days as caucuses and committees started at different times.

The only time everyone was likely to be leaving together, he said, was on June 30, when the session ended for the year.

‘Why are we special?’

He, Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, and Deanna Killen, Republican chief of staff of the Delaware State Senate, all voted against the idea, but it passed with 10 yeses.

Killen said she was not aware of any threats made against legislators, except one against former Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, years ago. He was accompanied by security for a while, she said.

“As public servants, it sets a bad precedent to spend $3 million of tax payer money to construct a private entrance and exit,” Killen said after the meeting. “I heard talk about security of staff and legislators leaving the Hall at night — thousands of Delawareans have to leave work at night without the security of a tunnel. Why are we special?

“Capitol Police has recommended for years that legislators remove their parking signs due to security concerns, but they still use them. To say we should heed Capitol Police advice specifically regarding a tunnel doesn’t hold water.”

RELATED STORY: State should reconsider parking deck tunnel

RELATED STORY: LegHall parking deck designers recommend street crossing

The $22 million parking deck is part of a larger plan that includes a 57,000-square-foot addition to Leg Hall. They were expected to cost $113 million, but now are projected at $122 million, the committee was told in January.

The amount of earth moved to dig the tunnel would need to be much larger than the tunnel itself to allow workers to maneuver. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard would have to be closed or have reduced access during construction, which would include the January-June legislative session.

The committee also wants to include a crosswalk from the deck to legislative hall. It would be positioned roughly mid-block and cost about $500,000. The city of Dover scotched the idea of a raised crosswalk, because they are forbidden in city code.









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