By Terry Rogers
Milford Police Department is investigating an accident that occurred Thursday, August 8, around 5:26 PM, at an intersection many residents feel is extremely dangerous. According to police and fire company reports, there was an overturned vehicle with subjects reported trapped at the intersection of NE 10th Street and Coastal Highway, Route 1. No information was available regarding the vehicle occupants, including injuries they may have sustained, but such accidents are becoming common at the intersection.
“Many people regard our push for an overpass at Route 14 and Route 1 as simply a selfish desire to improve convenient travel to Milford City form Woods Haven,” Emmett Venett, President of the Greater Woods Haven Civic Association, said after hearing of Thursday’s crash. “Actually, the issue is far more about public safety in the broader concern for human life and suffering. We know no one knows who is going to get hurt at this intersection, it is so random who pays the price here. One fatality was a New Jersey woman – no one remembers her except her loved ones. Another innocent victim was a school child crossing the road.”
DelDOT had originally planned to begin construction of an overpass in the area, with construction scheduled to begin in 2014, but the project was delayed until at least 2016. Woods Haven residents are angry that the overpass, which would eliminate an intersection that has statistically been dangerous, was delayed while another overpass planned in Frederica near an area that will house a proposed sports complex, was moved up to 2014. Some residents say that the sports complex may not even be finished when that overpass is complete, yet the construction of that overpass will be completed years before the one near Woods Haven.
“Finding money out of nowhere for an overpass to support a sports complex, not yet built south of Frederica, while people crash upside down in their cars at Route 14 and Route 1, is the crazy way our government works,” Mr. Vennett continued. “The crash statistics clearly support an overpass for Milford before two overpasses for the Frederica area.” According to DelDOT officials, the reason for delaying the overpass at NE Front Street is much more complicated than simply funding.
“The main issue is that we already have plans completed and right-of-ways in place for the Frederica project,” said Jim Satterfield, Design Resource Engineer for DelDOT. “The project is far more advanced than the Front Street project. Although we had originally scheduled to acquire necessary right-of-ways for the project by FY 2015, that did not happen, which pushed the plans back further.” In addition, Mr. Satterfield explained that part of the issue is the decision by Secretary of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt, for Delaware not to borrow money for road projects. This led to less funding for planned projects, and caused the department to re-evaluate based on the progress of each particular project.
At a public hearing held in April 2013, Mr. Vennett presented three years of crash data, provided to him by DelDOT, which showed there had been 19 crashes at Coastal Highway and NE Front Street, resulting in 12 injuries and one fatality over the past four years. An additional fatality occurred at New Wharf Road near Hitchens Tire when a school bus struck a vehicle, killing the driver of the vehicle and injuring students on the school bus. Both NE Front Street and New Wharf Road lead into the Woods Haven subdivision, and to other residential areas on the east side of Coastal Highway. Although there were 17 crashes reported at the intersection where the sports complex overpass is planned, only three of them resulted in injuries and there were no fatalities.
“We still do not have the plans together for the Front Street project,” Mr. Satterfield explained. “There are some complicating issues there including the addition of Grotto’s and Royal Farms, and the alignment for the entire project. We are continuing the process to obtain the necessary right-of-ways and to complete the design in hopes that money will come available that will allow us to begin the project sooner. Although we do look at safety issues, as we did with the Route 1 and 30 intersection, where there were a significant number of accidents, there are many other factors that the state must consider before moving ahead with any particular road construction project.”
Photos taken by Woods Haven residents over the July 4 holiday weekend showed how difficult it was for those living on the east side of Coastal Highway to get into the city. On Sunday, July 7, 2013, traffic was bumper-to-bumper from as far north as the Little Heaven traffic light to well south of Milford, on both Coastal Highway and Dupont Highway (Route 113). In addition, witnesses have reported that some drivers ignore barriers placed at the intersection designed to keep them from crossing the highway, resulting in even more confusion at the intersection.
Senator Gary Simpson agrees with the Woods Haven residents, and has asked DelDOT not to delay the Woods Haven intersection. Senator Simpson has said he sees giving the green light to the sports complex overpass at an intersection that is far less dangerous as opposed to the NE Front Street overpass as “a political move, rather than a move for public safety.” According to reports, DelDOT has planned an overpass at the NE Front Street location since the 1960’s, and the land acquired for the overpass was part of a controversial 2006 land-lease deal involving a liquor distributor with ties to then Governor Ruth Ann Minner.
Even if construction on the overpass begins in 2016, it is not scheduled for completion until 2020, which Vennet and other residents say is too long to wait when public safety is in question.