by Terry Rogers
On Monday, March 26, DelDOT, along with federal, state and local officials, broke ground on the Route 14 overpass, a project that will cost $22 million.
“There have been a lot of people who have been involved in this project for a longer time than I have,” Governor John Carney said. “I have only been your Governor for a year, but George [Pierce] has been shuffling this project along for, I think he said, seven years. Emmett [Venett] and others have been pushing for this project for even longer than that.” Venett has been an outspoken proponent for the overpass, which was originally slated to begin construction in 2014 and was then delayed until 2016, citing that future accidents can be avoided at the two intersections through the construction of new infrastructure.
Governor Carney told the crowd gathered for the groundbreaking that more than $100 million in highway infrastructure projects were planned in Kent County, over $100 million in Sussex County and over $200 million in New Castle County. Funding for the projects are a combination of federal and state funding. The Route 14 overpass project was funded using 80 percent federal money.
“This is a partnership,” U.S. Senator Tom Carper said. “The feds brought $17 million to the table and the State came up with their share. Neither could do it alone. When I was just out of the Navy, I came down this road. It was just a two-lane road then when me and one of my buddies rode our bikes down this road, eventually making it to Rehoboth Beach. People go to the beach for different things. Some for sand, some for body surfing, some for fishing, some like tax-free shopping, some like the restaurants, some just like the people, some like the water. The big thing is people just want to get there. No one wants to sit in traffic forever. This project will make sure that four-lane highway is fully utilized so people can find the sand, enjoy our beaches and want to return to Delaware.”
U.S. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester pointed out that when she got to Congress, she was placed on two committees, the Education and Workforce Committee along with the Agriculture Committee. As a member of the Agriculture Committee, she recalled research she did about agriculture in Delaware where she learned that DuPont Highway opened 94 years ago, connecting Selbyville to Wilmington. She pointed out that, like that highway, this project was a connection, a way to bridge gaps to not only create jobs but create a better quality of life for communities.
“This is my twentieth year in the Senate and I think this project has been on my agenda the whole twenty years,” State Senator Gary Simpson said. “I really have to hand it to these folks over here from DelDOT for making this finally happen. It takes a topnotch boss and without Secretary Cohan’s leadership on this project, we would never be anywhere near digging the dirt we see on this project.”
Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe pointed out the local partnership that DELDOT and the City of Milford formed to make sure that local needs were a priority for this project.
“When we started talking to DelDOT, we made sure we were doing this for the residents of Milford,” Mayor Bryan Shupe said. “That we weren’t just doing it for the people going down to the beach, taking into account the people who live on the other side of Route 1 to get into Milford and back. As you see, our high school is right there, so it will offer a safe route for students, teachers and parents to get back and forth to school safely. It also drives right into our downtown, which will create economic development opportunities for our small businesses.”
Emmett Venett, who retired to Woods Haven after a career in the United States Air Force, told the crowd that he decided he had to get involved after several fatal accidents in the area. In 2008, Susan Galloway of Pennsylvania was killed when a school bus with Kindergarten students failed to see her on the highway. The bus accident and others in the area led DELDOT to change traffic patterns in the area which caused bus routes to change. Julia Bailey, a Milford High School student, had her stop switched from the first stop leaving the school to the last stop. Instead of riding the bus to her home that was just across the highway, she decided to walk and was killed as she crossed Route 1 in 2010. In 2016, Mario Nelson of Harrington was killed at the Front Street intersection. Venett has been fighting to get the overpass installed for many years.
“When you look at the statistics, these two intersections had more serious crashes than Bowers Beach and Thompsonville,” Venett said. “So, when I started to look at the data and feel the emotion, I had to come out of retirement and try to use my skills to influence this project. It made it a lot easier when Secretary Cohan showed up. She just brings a light to everything and things got better. There are now 500 people on the other side of the highway who are going to have safe transportation for their kids. When we put safety first, infrastructure first, it is a win-win for everyone.”
The businesses near the new overpass will remain open during construction, including Grotto Pizza, Royal Farms, Warfel Construction and Hitchens Tire. There will be access to the businesses during all phases of the construction. The overpass is scheduled to be completed in August 2019 and will include a grade separated intersection at Northeast Front Street as well as a connector road between Northeast Tenth and Northeast Front Street.
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