Delaware paving the way for the future

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Workers install pylons along Alt US 13 near Little Heaven Saturday morning. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The Department of Transportation plans to spend a quarter of a billion dollars in Kent County over the next six years.

Several key projects, such as the West Dover Connector and the long-awaited South Frederica interchange, currently are underway, while others are set to begin later this year.

Though the department has not conducted any countywide or large-scale U.S. 13 traffic studies in recent years, business seems to be booming around Kent, particularly along the county-spanning Del. 1. Several large projects are centered on Del. 1, including a nine-mile stretch from north Frederica to Milford.

Much of the work along Del. 1 is part of the state’s Corridor Capacity Preservation Program.

Multiple interchanges are being developed to allow for easier access and smoother traffic flow, particularly as drivers head to attractions like the state’s beaches and the Kent County Regional Sports Complex.

Not all of the activity in Kent County is exclusive to the southern portion, however.

DelDOT hopes to complete a roadway that will allow drivers to cut through west Dover with greater ease in summer 2017. The West Dover Connector will link U.S. 13 near Brecknock Park to Saulsbury Road, allowing drivers heading through Camden to make it to west Dover by taking a single, shorter main road.

The three-mile roadway also will have exits and entrances at New Burton and Wyoming Mill roads. It will include one lane in each direction and shoulder paths for bicycles.

Identified as a need by the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization due to area growth, the completed section will make Eden Hill more reachable for many.

“I see it as an economic development tool which will grant us access to the western industrial parts of the city of Dover,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said during the February 2015 groundbreaking. “It’ll join Camden with us and provide an easy access around the city.”

It is expected to cost $62 million, although some of that will be paid with federal money.

Just south of Frederica is a planned grade-separated intersection where Del. 1 meets Tub Mill Pond/Milford Neck roads. Awarded to Newark-based A-Del Construction Co. last month, the $31 million project is set to begin with a groundbreaking in March.

The interchange will facilitate easier access to the planned sports complex, which is set to open in March 2017. Once the interchange is completed in summer 2018, it will help traffic move smoother and increase safety.

Two miles down the road, the traffic light at the intersection of Del. 1 and Thompsonville Road has been removed. The department is extending Thompsonville Road across the highway to Tub Mill and Church Hill roads and building an interchange as well.

The project has drawn some criticism from nearby residents, who allege removing the signal will open cars trying to cross Del. 1 to a near-constant flood of traffic.

“This will expose scores of daily commuters, including school buses, to unacceptable risk as they regularly attempt to traverse this busy artery,” Rep. Jack Peterman, R-Milford, wrote in a September letter to DelDOT.

The department conducted a study to gauge how the light impacted traffic and was “unable to correlate the presence of gaps to the light at Thompsonville.”

“Based on these findings, we believe the traffic signal at Thompsonville has minimal influence in creating gaps in traffic, and its removal will not create a noticeable change in the conditions on Route 1,” spokesman Greg Layton said in a September email.

The interchange likely will be completed by November, at a cost of $26 million. The project is ranked sixth on DelDOT’s proposed list of 94 planned items for the next six years.

DelDOT and contractors are also hard at work building a new northbound lane on Del. 1 and a service road in Little Heaven. The traffic light will be replaced with an interchange at Del. 1 and Bowers Beach Road, with construction to finish in fall 2018. It carries a cost of about $81 million.

The interchange will reduce accidents, DelDOT says.

The department has dozens of projects that will not break ground for years, including some in Dover. There are plans to create a roundabout near the Loockerman Street/Forest Street intersection and additional left-turn and through lanes on Saulsbury Road where it meets Forrest Avenue.

The highest ranking Kent project on DelDOT’s list is the Camden Bypass, a plan to connect South Street to West Lebanon Road and alleviate traffic by providing a way for vehicles to avoid passing through downtown Camden.

“The amount of traffic is getting ridiculous,” Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, said in April.

Sitting at third on DelDOT’s inventory, the bypass is not set to begin construction for more than four years.

A provision in the current year’s bond bill allows DelDOT to study the creation of a road around the Scarborough Road intersection off Del. 1. The road would be designed to help reduce traffic and allow for improved access to Dover Mall, Dover Downs, Delaware State University and Dover International Speedway.

Some bridges also are seeing replacements. The White Marsh Branch bridge on Spider Web Road in Felton will be shut down from March to May to replace structurally deficient pipes. Detour signs will be posted.

The bridge is ranked 12th out of the 1,625 such structures in the state in terms of the immediate need.

Every year brings with it new road and bridge construction needs, some of which are not foreseen ahead of time, but officials say that thanks to legislation passed last year by the General Assembly, DelDOT is in a solid place financially.

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