By Terry Rogers
On Monday, November 24, Milford City Council held a workshop on the need for an overpass at the intersection of Route 1 and Northeast Tenth Street. Woods Haven resident, Emmett Vennett and DelDOT project manager, Jim Satterfield spoke to council about the overpass and explained the process used by DelDOT for determining the priority of projects like overpasses throughout the state.
“We are asking for council’s support tonight to encourage DelDOT to look closer at the statistics regarding accidents at the intersections in the Milford area,” Mr. Vennett said. “Initially, I think people looked at this as a Woods Haven problem, but that is no longer the case. I think the officials that make these decisions have their head in the sand. They just don’t get it. We need more voices telling them that this is a safety concern, not only for the residents of Milford, but also for visitors traveling down Route 1 to the beach communities.”
According to Mr. Vennett, Delaware’s Secretary of Transportation, Shailen Bhatt, instituted what he felt was an objective method for prioritizing projects using a program known as Decision Lens. The program is a prioritization and resource optimization solution for commercial government. It uses specific factors including safety , congestion and operating effectiveness to help DelDOT determine which projects are critical and which are can be placed lower on the priority list. Currently, the intersection at Thompsonville Road is prioritized as third on the list and that project is already in the bid process, while the Northeast Tenth Street project is 76th, despite the fact that accident statistics show that the combined New Wharf Road and Northeast Tenth Street, which both would be affected by a new overpass, have had more accidents and injuries than the Thompsonville intersection.
One factor that the program takes into effect is speed, and according to Mr. Vennett, the Thompsonville intersection shows a lower rate of speed than the Northeast Tenth Street intersection. Mr. Vennett pointed out that this has more to do with the working traffic light at Thompsonville than with the actual speed of cars on the highway.
“When Dennis Silicato offered to pay for a traffic light at the intersection of Northeast Tenth Street when Grotto’s and Royal Farms were proposed, he was told he could not put one there,” Mr. Vennett said. “Had that been permitted, something tells me the priority for Northeast Tenth Street would be much higher than it is now.” Mr. Vennett presented accident statistics over the past three years which indicated a significant difference in accidents between the two intersections.
DelDOT crash statistics show that there have been 26 accidents with six injuries at the Thompsonville intersection. During that same period, there have been 28 accidents with 15 injuries at the Northeast Front and Northeast Tenth Street intersections. An overpass at Northeast Tenth Street would address safety issues at both intersections. Mr. Vennett also pointed out that because these statistics were only for three years, they did not include the death of a high school student who was struck when crossing Route 1 or the woman from New Jersey who was killed when a school bus driver pulled in front of her while attempting to cross Route 1 just before Labor Day Weekend.
“Decision Lens was chosen to remove objectivity,” Jim Satterfield, Regional Group Engineer for DelDOT. “We were in the process of getting right-of-way acquisition, had the funding and were moving forward on this project when the money was pulled. I have been begging the administration to let me keep working on the design in-house, trying to get borings and testing done so we can move this into the final stages.” Mr. Satterfield explained that the infrastructure is already in place, but he felt that it was now up to the city to put pressure at the state level to get this project funded.
Councilman Skip Pikus said he fully supported the need for an overpass there as he had family that was required to cross that intersection daily. He said he was confused as to why the state would not focus on the unsafe conditions at the intersection.
“I don’t understand the beuracracy that exists in this,” Councilman Pikus said. “How can they justify putting in an overpass for something they don’t even know will work when there are people in danger somewhere else. Two people have already died there and I don’t want it to take another before something is done.” Councilman Owen Brooks, who also lives near the intersection, agreed that the intersection was not only dangerous, but that the intersection also presented a traffic nightmare, especially in the summer.
Council agreed to place the matter on the agenda for the next board meeting, which is scheduled for December 8, 2014. At that time, council will decide how to proceed in urging the state to look closer at the priority list.