Woods Haven Residents Express Concerns over Delay in Overpass Construction

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View of the proposed overpass.  Photo provided by DELDOT.
View of the proposed overpass. Photo provided by DELDOT.

On Wednesday, April 3, 2013, residents of the Woods Haven development expressed concerns with state and local officials regarding DelDOT’s decision to delay construction of an overpass at the intersection of Coastal Highway (Route 1) and Northeast Front Street (Route 14). According to residents, the overpass, which was originally scheduled to begin construction in 2014, has now been pushed back to begin in 2016. At the same time, another projected overpass near the location of a proposed sports complex south of Frederica, had the start time for construction moved up to the fall of 2013.

Representatives from DelDOT, Tom Banez, project manager and George Pearce, design engineer, presented the preferred alternative design, one of six presented throughout the planning process at various workshops, for an overpass and exit ramp project that would close the New Wharf Road intersection from access to Coastal Highway. Exit ramps would allow residents of Woods Haven to access north and southbound Coastal Highway using service roads and exit ramps to make access to the highway safer.

“That intersection is not safe,” Banez explained. “This overpass resolves the safety issues that exist by bringing drivers over an overpass onto a service road behind Royal Farms and Grottos, accessing Northeast 10th Street from there. Drivers can also exit northbound or southbound on Coastal highway from ramps rather than attempting access at an unsafe intersection.”

Emmett Vennett, President of the Greater Woods Haven Civic Association, asked why the project was delayed for two years when another, less dangerous intersection south of Frederica, was moved up for completion. Vennett presented crash data he received from DelDOT for the past three years indicating that there had been 19 crashes during that period at Coastal Highway and Northeast Front Street. The majority of these crashes were at an angle, resulting in 12 injuries and one fatality. The intersection south of Frederica, where the new sports complex is proposed, had 17 accidents, but only three resulted in injuries. Most of these crashes were front to rear incidents where injuries are less likely, according to Vennett.

“A lot of us are wondering how an overpass with fewer serious accidents got pushed ahead of this one,” Vennett asked. “We met this week with the Secretary of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt, and expressed our concerns to him, as well as Senators Gary Simpson and Colin Bonini. Representatives Dave Wilson and Harvey Kenton were also in attendance. Right now, the sports complex is simply a proposed project. Secretary Bhatt was taken aback when I asked him what would happen if they spent millions on this overpass near Frederica, and the complex was never completed. Would it then be a road to nowhere?” Senator Gary Simpson agrees that the intersection near Woodshaven needs to be completed first.

“We have been presented accurate data, and I am impressed with the work the people of Woods Haven have done to make a case for getting ahead of projects at Thompsonville and the sports complex,” Simpson said. “I am not sure how the Tub Mill Pond Road project near the sports complex came out ahead of the Woodshaven project, except that the sports complex is tied to economic development, which is what the governor is pushing for right now. I do agree that a $10 million overpass to nowhere is a foolish idea.”

Representative Jack Peterman says he also pushed for the Woods Haven overpass to be completed first, and is surprised that DelDOT has pushed the project back.

“Originally, I was told the plan was to use Northeast Tenth Street for the overpass, but that would require traffic to travel through Woods Haven, which residents did not want,” Peterman explained. “That was why the state moved the overpass to New Wharf Road.”

Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson explained that the sports complex is anticipated to bring significant financial benefits to the state, which is why he believes the state moved the construction of that overpass ahead of the one at New Wharf Road.

“What we’ve found is that travel activities such as these are somewhat recession proof because parents find a way to support activities for their kids no matter what the economy is like,” Buckson, who is a Polytech High school coach, explained. “This will be a year round facility that creates a huge footprint in our area, bringing many visitors to Milford, Dover and Frederica. It will only have lacrosse and soccer fields as we do not want to compete with the softball complex in Dagsboro, which is very successful despite being in the middle of nowhere.”

Another factor facing the Woods Haven development is Lighthouse Estates, a residential community being developed just north of Woodshaven. There is currently a hotel on the property, and guests who want to head southbound on Coastal Highway to the beaches must exit on Carpenter Pit Road, cross a one-way bridge over Swan Creek to get to Northeast Tenth Street. Currently, hotel guests and residents of the housing development access Coastal Highway at Northeast Tenth Street. The proposed plan will deny access to Coastal Highway heading southbound at Northeast Tenth Street toward area beaches, requiring all hotel traffic heading south on Coastal Highway to travel through Woods Haven to access New Wharf Road’s southbound exit ramp to Coastal Highway.

“The developer is required to upgrade the bridge over Swan Creek once so many lots are sold,” Banez explained. “Right now it is a matter of funding. The City of Milford is administering the project, but until a certain number of lots are sold, the developer does not have to provide funding for road upgrades.” City Manager Richard Carmean explained that the city is working on the Carpenter Pit Road project.

“Once the developer sells thirty lots, he has to make improvements to Carpenter Pit Road,” Carmean said. “However, we know that they plan to put a church in there, and there has been talk of a restaurant going in there. If that happens, something has to be done with Carpenter Pit Road.” Residents asked if a service road connecting New Wharf Road and Northeast Tenth Street was possible.

“Unfortunately, there is not enough space between Coastal Highway and many of the residences in Woodshaven to create a service road in that area,” Pearce explained. “A ramp at Northeast Tenth Street is also not possible due to space limits.”

Bicycle and foot traffic were considered when planning the New Wharf Road overpass and ramp system. Banez said that all roadways are wide enough that foot and bicycle traffic can safely travel into Milford from Woodshaven and other areas east of Coastal Highway. However, there are no plans by DelDOT to build a pedestrian crossover at Northeast Tenth Street in the vicinity of Milford High School and a proposed Middle School at that location, despite the death of a student several years ago who was crossing the highway at that intersection.

“Pedestrian crossings are difficult as you must accommodate those with disabilities who may need to access the crossover,” Pearce explained. “With all the requirements, a pedestrian crossover actually costs more to install than an on and off ramp for vehicles.”