DelDOT breaks ground on new overpass in Milford

The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

MILFORD — At least 138 collisions have been reported to the Milford Police Department at the intersection of North East Tenth Street and Route 1 since April 2009, according to Sgt. Robert Masten.

Residents of Woodshaven, just to the east of the intersection behind the Milford High School and next to Grottos and Royal Farms, have fought for decades to see changes made to ensure safety of residents and travelers alike.

A nearby overpass will help ease the burden of the dangerous intersection, local officials say.

DelDOT, state and local officials, Diamond Materials and residents broke ground for the new overpass between North East Tenth Street and North East Front Street Monday afternoon.

“This is an exciting day,” DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan said. “This is a project that has been in the making for a long time.”

The overpass will cost $22 million with 80 percent of those funds coming from the federal government, she said.

Set for completion in August 2019 just months after the new Bayhealth Sussex Campus opens, the project will create a grade, or height, separated intersection at North East Front Street. It will also create a connector road between North East Tenth Street and North East Front Street to ensure a consistent traffic pattern and redirect travelers.

“This project is pretty much priceless for the community in Milford,” Project Manager George Pierce said, adding that the overpass will help reconnect residents on the east side of Route 1 to the town they call home.

Delaware Governor John Carney says the project joins a host of other construction projects along Route 1 totaling about $114 million in Kent County alone.

“All of it is, of course, to the benefit of the residents across the state,” he said.

Milford resident Emmett Venett speaks before the crowd, including DelDOT Project Manager George Pierce, Delaware Governor John Carney and Senator Tom Carper as they break ground at Milford’s newest overpass site. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Emmett Venett is one such resident who has fought to make the dream of an overpass a reality for his neighbors. He retired to Milford “some time ago” after serving for thirty years in the United States Air Force, but had to get involved when he realized the dangers he and other locals faced while utilizing the North East Tenth Street and U.S. Route 1 intersection to get to and from home.

“What drove me to get back involved was something you could only appreciate if you live here,” he told the crowd during the ground-breaking event.

He told the crowd stories of several fatal accidents occurring at the intersection near the Woodshaven development.

In August 2008, a 40-foot school bus transporting kindergarteners hit a speeding vehicle. Susan Galloway, 50, of Elverson, Pa. was pronounced dead shortly after she was transported to Milford Memorial Hospital. The two children on the bus at the time were treated for minor injuries. The bus driver was not injured.

A pedestrian, 15-year-old Julia Bailey, died while crossing the highway going home to Woodhaven after school in May 2010. The traffic pattern changed along with her bus route, causing her to be the last drop off instead of the first.

“She walked home for the last time,” Mr. Venett said emotionally.

Most recently, Mario Nelson of Harrington was killed at the intersection and three people injured at Front Street and Route 1 in April 2016, one of two fatal accidents in Milford that year, according to the Milford Police Department.

“Several neighbors have been in crashes here, too,” Mr. Venett continued. “When I started looking at the data and feeling the emotions, I had to come out of retirement and work on this project.”

Mr. Venett has worked with DelDOT and other officials for more than ten years to ensure safety is in the forefront of the project.

His persistence is paying off. Representing the residents of Woodshaven, he grabbed a shovel alongside DelDOT and state and local officials Monday to officially break the ground at what will become the newest overpass in Milford.

“I was responsible for 13 Air Force bases and none of those bases could bring money to the table like the state of Delaware. I don’t know how they did it,” he joked.

Senator Tom Carper helped secure federal funds for the project and shared some of this thoughts during the ceremony.

“Like most things, this is a partnership. The federal government couldn’t do it alone. The state couldn’t do it alone,” he said of the transportation project.

“People go to the beach to look for different things. Some people look for sand. Some people want to buy something. Some people want to go fishing.  Some people like the home of tax-free shopping. Some people want restaurants. Some people just like the people. Some people like weather. But you know what? Some people like to be able to get there. They don’t want to sit in traffic.”

Senator Gary Simpson and other officials, however, continued to emphasize the needs of local residents and businesses.

“This is my 20th year in the senate. I think this has been on the agenda all those 20 years,” he said.

Representative Charles Postles added his own excitement for three key points accomplished by the project: safety and convenience for locals, providing a convenient way to get into the downtown area of Milford and preserving the corridor while helping travelers get to their destinations quickly.

“We are excited to see the construction of the overpass begin and look forward to its completion,” Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe said. “Constant communication with DelDOT has helped to develop infrastructure that serves the needs of our local community. New traffic routes will help parents, students and teachers arrive and leave Milford High School and Central Academy safely as well as allow Milford residents from East of Route 1 to travel safely into town and back. The overpass also connects with the entrance of our downtown, which will help to promote economic development efforts for our small business community.”

The city of Milford is also working with DelDOT on future improvements to Route 14 through downtown along North East and North West Front Streets to Route 113. The city will be responsible for 20 percent of the project costs while DelDOT will pay for the other 80 percent.

“DelDOT has begun the conceptual design for right-of-way improvements along North East and North West Front Street between Rehoboth Boulevard and Route 113.  Funded through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), the city hopes to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure all along Route 14.  The project may include road diets, landscaping bumpouts, sidewalk and crosswalk improvements, curb replacement, paving and lighting.  Conceptual design should be completed by the Spring of 2018,” Mayor Shupe said.

In the meantime, Milford residents can get excited about their soon-to-be new traffic pattern along Route 1 as they see construction begin on the overpass they’ve requested for years.

“There’s a heartfelt [community of] 500 people on the other side of the highway. When we put infrastructure first, safety first, we end up with a win-win for everybody,” Mr. Venett said.

Project updates can be found online at https://deldot.gov/information/projects/sr1/sr1_northeast_front_st/.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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