Big changes, big headaches as Del. 1 project heats up

LITTLE HEAVEN — The two-mile stretch of Del. 1 that winds from Little Heaven to Frederica might look like organized chaos, but Delaware Department of Transportation officials insist there is a method to the madness.

Many residents from that area aren’t too sure about that.

Currently, motorists are greeted by cones, cranes and construction workers through that stretch of road, in which seemingly constant work is taking place on the area where South State Street converges with Del. 1.

The purpose of the construction is to build a highway bridge over Bowers Beach Road in Little Heaven and a pair of service roads that will flank Del. 1.

The work will allow for uninterrupted traffic flow while service roads will permit both north and southbound travel on Del. 1 to continue during construction. Ramps eventually will be installed to allow traffic off and onto Bowers Beach Road.

Construction workers temporarily block Bowers Beach Road near Route 1 near Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The $40 million Del. 1 Little Heaven Separated Intersection Project, which broke ground in November 2015, is nearing its scheduled halfway point.

The project is designed to improve traffic flow toward Delaware’s beaches when it is completed in late fall 2018, according to DelDOT spokesman Greg Layton.

“The biggest challenge has been working with utility companies to relocate their lines and other infrastructure,” he said. “We haven’t run into any problems, but because of the length of the project there has been a lot to coordinate.”

Three homes on the corner of Del. 1 and Barratts Chapel Road are affected by the road construction near Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

He added that the broad scope of the project has led many of the area’s residents to stop by and ask questions.

“We have not received any complaints,” said Mr. Layton. “A few people have stopped by our offices to ask questions about the project, but they were not displeased with our work.”

‘ … Not on my list of favorites’

Susan S. Adams, who lives along Barratts Chapel Road, has lived in the area her entire life.

Ms. Adams said she is frustrated with the project, with its endless array of detours and everything associated with it.

“DelDOT is not on my list of favorites,” she said. “I grew up in a beautiful house on the corner of what was (U.S.) 113 and Barratts Chapel.

“Then the southbound lane replaced our front yard, leaving us with just a few feet. The house then had so much settlement from the traffic, many windows no longer opened. The noise was terrible.”

Ms. Adams said that DelDOT bought that house in order to make improvements to Del. 1.

The Little Heaven Grade Separated construction project includes an overpass that will take Del. 1 motorists over Bowers Beach Road. (Submitted graphic)

“It sat neglected for years,” she said. “It was so painful to go by daily and watch it fall into disarray. Eventually, it was taken down and all trace of it has disappeared. Now, it’s not even in the plans to use that area where our house was.”

On top of that, Ms. Adams said her family owns the field where DelDOT is building the new Barratts Chapel Road.

She said that 10 acres were taken for a road that bisects through the center of her family’s field, ruining its value and making it difficult to farm.

“There was absolutely no reason for this,” said Ms. Adams. “Simply making a merge lane onto Del. 1 south from Barratts Chapel would have saved tons of money.”

Changes and headaches

The Little Heaven construction project area is home to approximately 1,480 residents that reside in the area’s 356 housing units. Most of those residents live within the five residential subdivisions of Barker’s Landing, High Point, Tara, Bakers Choice and Ocean Drive Manor.

Several future residential subdivisions have also been proposed in close proximity to the project area.

The Little Heaven Grade Separated construction project stretches for nearly three miles along Del. 1. It is designed to improve safety and improve traffic flow in the area. (Submitted graphic)

Karri McCoy, of Bowers Beach, works at the Valero gas station at 7865 Bay Road in the midst of all of the construction.

Ms. McCoy said she has noticed an increase in accidents in the area where South State Street converges with Del. 1 in Little Heaven.

Surprisingly, last summer DelDOT officials said their numbers indicate that driving the highway in Little Heaven is no more dangerous than during its pre-construction days.

Ms. McCoy, who lives off Bowers Beach Road, doesn’t think so.

“It’s been crazy and chaotic,” she said. “One road’s shut down and another one’s open. You have to do your homework and find out which road’s going to be open today and which one’s closed.”

Ms. Adams agreed with her that the construction area can be confusing — as well as dangerous.

“Getting onto (Del.) 1 is tricky (from Barratts Chapel Road) because the barrels prevent a safe sight line of oncoming traffic,” she said. “Before construction, we rode south on the shoulder, especially in the summer, then merged onto (Del.) 1. That’s not possible now.

“They’ve closed our crossover from Barratts Chapel Road to go north even though no work has been done in that area since they began. We now go south to Frederica to go north. Why can’t the crossover be open until it’s necessary to close?”

Ms. Adams added, “When going around Buffalo Road and trying to get on the road to Magnolia, it is very difficult to see oncoming traffic both ways because of the barrels, as well. They block the view.”

Those same kinds of problems also exist on the northern end of the project.

“I think it’s going to be harder to get around because they’re putting all of the overpasses in up-and-down and they said they’re going to take all these turnarounds out,” said Ms. McCoy. “In order for me to get (to Valero) I’m going to have to go up and around and come back through, instead of just turning right there (in front of the store).”

One of the biggest complaints that residents near the Little Heaven construction project have is that the work is not being done to make their lives better — that it is for the beach-bound sun worshippers.

DelDOT estimated that in the summertime, an estimated 40,000 vehicles travel daily through the Del. 1 corridor in the Little Heaven area.

“This project was not done for the local people,” Ms. Adams said. “It is simply making it easier for tourists to go to the beach. It will add miles to ‘our’ daily travels.

“We will go south to the Frederica overpass to go north and coming home from the south we’ll have to go to Bowers Beach Road to come home.”

DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan insisted that the headaches will only be temporary.

“Yes, it’s going to be inconvenient during construction,” she said, “but once we’re done it’ll be much safer and easier for the locals to move around as well as getting the traffic and tourists to the beaches quicker and safer.”

Looking north from Barratts Chapel workers use shovels during road construction near Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ms. Cohan stressed that the work is being done to eventually make things easier at the Little Heaven project’s groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 8, 2015.

“We want our customers, the residents of Delaware and our guests, to understand that, although road projects might cause short-term delays, we are working for the long-term safety and efficiency of the state’s transportation network,” Ms. Cohan said. “We are ‘making strides to improve your ride.’”

Still, late fall 2018 and the anticipated end of the construction often seems light years away for the area’s residents.

“I don’t even know,” Ms. McCoy said, when thinking about when the project might be finished. “It looks like it might be longer than a year and a half.”

Ms. Adams doesn’t expect the project will be completed within two years.

“Honestly, the way the work is being done, it seems like it will never be finished,” she said. “They started on the Barratts Chapel Road last year and didn’t complete it.

“They’re working here a little, there a little …”

Ms. Adams said that ‘strides’ for DelDOT have turned into daily headaches for the area of Little Heaven — and there appears to be no aspirin in sight.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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