Little Heaven turns into big problem for motorists

A construction worker crosses southbound lanes of Del. 1 in Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

A construction worker crosses southbound lanes of Del. 1 in Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

LITTLE HEAVEN — It’s a busy pathway to Delaware beaches and then back home.

In June, roughly 40,000 vehicles will travel daily through the Del. 1 corridor in the Little Heaven area.

Locals can’t miss three ongoing construction projects along the highway also known as Bay Road.

Collectively, construction in the name of progress makes for an occasionally tight and/or shifty eight-mile stretch of road in southeastern Kent County.

According to the Delaware Department of Transportation, reported crashes have decreased slightly since the $40 million Little Heaven project began on Nov. 9, 2015. The anticipated completion date is fall 2018.

“I would surmise, and hope, that the presence of the work zone may cause motorists to slow down somewhat and become more aware of their surroundings, which could potentially be leading to fewer injury crashes overall,” DelDOT Traffic Safety Engineer Scott Neidert said.

A tragic crash

Of course, there’s no quantifying the tragic impact of a fatal crash on June 7 that left a 41-year-Dover resident Heath Janssen dead.

Motorists travel in the northbound lanes of Del. 1 in Little Heaven (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Motorists travel in the northbound lanes of Del. 1 in Little Heaven (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

In that incident, the Verizon employee was surrounded by cones and seemingly safe when struck while standing behind his parked work vehicle on the southbound shoulder. Police filed first-degree vehicular homicide and driving under the influence of drugs charges against Zachary M. Krytzer, 27, of Milton.

In the early aftermath of the crash, DelDOT transportation spokesman Greg Layton said, “We can and do raise awareness about driving while intoxicated, but we cannot force the drivers to obey the law.

“Speeding, distracted driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and other driver behaviors are what make work zones dangerous places to be. …

“We do try to raise awareness of these dangers — by sponsoring campaigns and posting messages to social media —

A roadside memorial was constructed with flowers and a Verizon hard hat where Heath B. Janssen was killed on June 7 on Del. 1 in Little Heaven. . (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

A roadside memorial was constructed with flowers and a Verizon hard hat where Heath B. Janssen was killed on June 7 on Del. 1 in Little Heaven. . (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

and we do follow specific guidelines when setting up work zones, but ultimately drivers are responsible for the safety of the roadway.”

Responding to the employee death, Verizon issued a statement that read:

“Our thoughts are with Mr. Janssen’s family during this difficult time. Heath was very well liked and will be greatly missed by his co-workers and friends.

“We arranged for counselors to be present at our Dover facility last week to support those that worked alongside him.”

Otherwise, DelDOT’s numbers indicate that driving the highway in Little Heaven is no more dangerous than its pre-construction days.

Speeding near Thompsonville

Farther south near Milford, DelDOT’s Thompsonville grade separation intersection project, USA Gas owner Ajaib Singh says business is down 30 percent since construction began. Mr. Singh said crossover and U-turn adjustments in the area have cut off the convenience of visiting his business.

“Since the construction began I’ve lost all business,” said Mr. Singh, who then estimated the actual drop has been 30 percent.

Describing himself as “not a worrywart,” Mr. Singh said he’ll survive the highway alterations but “I’ll be happy when it’s done.”

Also, he said, large trucks are challenged to maneuver through the area and “people say it takes much longer to cross over the road. You have to be careful.”

A Milford resident for 33 years, Butch Elzey began by describing the construction area highway traffic as “insane.”

Mostly, he said, the danger comes from young drivers’ texting while speeding along Del. 1, not due to the construction zone.

“I’ve been in a hurry most of my life,” Mr. Elzey said, but “these younger 20- and 30-something-year-old people now refuse to slow down for anyone or anything.”

While Mr. Elzey said he’s witnessed “five or six” cars hit a nearby concrete Jersey barrier, he doesn’t necessarily blame that on the ongoing construction.

Life in fast lane

From what Mr. Elzey has seen, a police presence in the area slows traffic but it’s inconsistent.

“Just as soon as they leave, people start going 80 miles per hour again.”

A construction worker marks the road with paint in the southbound lanes of Route 1 in Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery(

A construction worker marks the road with paint in the southbound lanes of Route 1 in Little Heaven. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery(

The most dangerous part of the construction, Mr. Elzey said, is when dump trucks attempt to cross the highway, often on their way to a nearby noontime lunch spot. Until construction is complete, he said the family’s 35-foot motor home will remain parked.

“My wife and I have a catering business and sometimes it takes us 15 minutes to get across the road,” he said. “A lot of drivers don’t even consider slowing down to help other vehicles merge.”

When the bypass is completed, Mr. Elzey said, “a lot of the (traffic issues) will go away.”

DelDOT has taken crash-reduction measures, including closing highway crossover areas with large orange and white drums and erecting ample signage warning of shifting lanes and upcoming construction zones, closures and detours.

A traffic safety study indicated no speed limit adjustments needed to be made, officials said.

By the numbers

DelDOT said it responded when drivers complained placement of some signs didn’t give enough time for drivers to react.

“The ones I’ve gotten have been from residents having concerns with what is happening right in front of their house,” DelDOT construction engineer Craig Blowers said.

“Most everyone passing through haven’t said anything about it.”

According to DelDOT, there were 26 reported crashes from Nov. 9, 2015, when the Little Heaven project began to June 14, 2016. Six involved personal injury. In the same time frame a year earlier, 16 property damage only and eight personal injury crashes occurred. Personal injury crashes dropped from 33 percent to 24 percent, DelDOT said.

Rear-end crashes were the source of 44 percent of the most recent incidents, compared to 25 percent the previous year.

They were “likely due to slowing traffic through the work zone,” Mr. Neidert said.

Peak hours during weekdays are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. northbound and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. southbound. Most traffic heads southbound from late Friday into mid-day Saturday, followed by increased northbound travel for the remaining weekend.

Motorists and residents must deal with the conditions until fall 2018 when the project is expected to be completed.

Fortunately, Mr. Blowers said, “The folks who did the plans put a lot of phasing into the project.”

These are conceptual displays for the Little Heaven Grade Separated Intersection on Del. 1. While these composite renderings may not be precise in their engineering or landscaping details, DelDOT said efforts were made to ensure the accuracy in their overall appearance. (Submitted photos/DelDOT)

These are conceptual displays for the Little Heaven Grade Separated Intersection on Del. 1. While these composite renderings may not be precise in their engineering or landscaping details, DelDOT said efforts were made to ensure the accuracy in their overall appearance. (Submitted photos/DelDOT)

19dsn Little Heaven Roadway2

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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