On Wednesday, July 15, Delaware Department of Transportation held a public workshop at Milford Senior High School in order to obtain public feedback regarding proposed changes to several intersections in Milford. The changes would occur at the intersections of Route 1 and New Wharf Road as well as Route 1 and Northeast Front Street.
“We were asked to look at how to make these intersections safer,” said Tom Meyer of DelDOT’s Traffic Division. “These changes are interim fixes until we can complete a grade separation project at New Wharf Road. Our goal today is to show the public what we plan to do and get their input into whether the changes will be effective and to allow them to offer suggestions on how we can improve the safety of these intersections. If we get strong opposition to these changes, we will leave the intersections as they are and proceed with the grade separation project without changing the intersections.”
Many citizens who live east of Route 1 attended the public workshop with the majority of them opposed to the proposed changes. Everett Bennett, who says he travels across Route 1 eight to ten times each day, asked how long it would take DelDOT to complete the overpass at New Wharf Road. Mr. Meyer said that the agency anticipated starting the project in three to four years, but that it would not be completed for six to ten years.
“So we are looking at dealing with these changes for as long as ten years?” Mr. Bennett said. “Those of us who live and work in this area already have difficulty crossing Route 1 to get into Milford, This proposal closes two intersections to cross traffic. There are already traffic problems where you closed Tenth Street to cross traffic. You should have realized what a mess it was when you closed the overpass at Route 1 and 113 recently.”
According to DelDOT, the intersection at Northeast Front Street would be closed to crossing traffic. Motorists coming from Milford would be required to turn south on Route 1 and make a U-turn at the next crossover in order to travel northbound on the highway. Motorists traveling south on Route 1 would still be able to turn right onto Northeast Front Street. At the Northeast Tenth Street intersection, motorists leaving areas east of Route 1 would be able to cross the highway to travel into Milford. However, motorists leaving Milford who wish to cross Route 1 would have to turn south and make a u-turn at the next crossover to head north or turn onto New Wharf Road on the east side of Route 1.
“This will be a real problem for school buses,” said Steve Peterman who owns and operates buses for Milford School District. “We already cannot cross at Tenth Street and now they are going to close off more intersections to cross traffic. If this is done, we will have to travel all the way to Route 36 in order to go north on Route 1 in order to deliver students to the east side of Route 1. This will add unnecessary miles to our routes and actually cost the state more money since they pay us for the mileage our buses run.” Mr. Peterman also said that placing an overpass at New Wharf Road did not seem feasible as the better location for the overpass was at Northeast Tenth Street in order to address traffic problems near Grotto’s, Royal Farms and the High School.
Marvin Davis, whose farm was depicted in the displays used by DelDOT at the workshop, expressed concern about farm vehicles and tractor trailers that must cross Route 1 on a regular basis. Mr. Davis pointed out that there were many farms east of Route 1 that required feed trucks as well as tractor-trailers that needed to haul produce or chickens.
“We also have a lot of farm equipment that must access Route 1 on occasion to get from one section of a farm to another,” Mr. Davis said. “This proposal will require us to get those tractor trailers or the equipment across two lanes of traffic in order to make u-turns to go in the direction we need to go. In the summer, you can’t even get a car out on that highway and across two lanes safely, and now you are asking us to get a tractor trailer to do it?”
Mr. Bennett said that the removal of the light at Thompsonville once the overpass there is completed would further increase the problem as many residents use the delay when the light turns red as an opening to access Route 1. He said that when that is removed, it will be nearly impossible for anyone on the east side of Route 1 to get into Milford or travel in the direction they want on Route 1.
“I have a very simple proposal that may resolve this problem,” Mr. Bennett said. “They are going to remove the traffic light at Thompsonville when the overpass is completed. They could simply move that light to the Tenth Street intersection until the overpass at New Wharf Road is complete. Then, if they close the intersections at Front and New Wharf, it won’t be that much of a hardship as the light will allow safe crossing. It is not adding a light, but simply moving it from one location to another, temporarily.” Mr. Bennett said that when he proposed this to DelDOT officials, he was told this was not possible but was given no explanation why.
Mr. Peterman suggested that the overpass at New Wharf Road was more elaborate than necessary and that one similar to the access at Route 36 with a simple exit on and off would be much easier to manage. He also suggested it would be significantly cheaper and require less land to build such an overpass as opposed to one with long, curving cloverleaves like those shown in the proposal at the workshop.
Mr. Bennett said that there are far too many drivers traveling at high rates of speed on Route 1 to allow drivers to cross over three lanes of traffic in order to make u-turns. He pointed out that if a driver wants to go north from Royal Farms they must leave the parking lot and merge into the right hand lane while avoiding the “kamikaze pilots” traveling southbound on Route 1. They then must move into the left hand lane which is meant for faster traffic only to slow down in order to make the u-turn to head north.
“They sit in an office in Dover and make these decisions, but they don’t talk to the people who travel these roads every day,” Mr. Bennett said. “In 1967, when the high school was built, we were told an overpass would be placed at Tenth Street and they still haven’t managed to complete it. The perception is that the state is more concerned about getting tourists to the beach than they are their taxpayers.”