DelDOT public meeting tests Route 113 intersection plans

Responding to years of traffic congestion and collisions, the Delaware Department of Transportation has developed a tentative plan to improve two Route 113 intersections in Georgetown.

The Delaware Hazard Elimination Program identified the areas as having high crash rates, with 33 reported automobile collisions within six years, from January 2006 to December 2011. Eight reported crashes occurred at the Alms House/Speedway Road intersection, and 25 crashes were reported from the Wood Branch/Kruger Road intersection, including one fatal collision.

A few years ago, the narrow intersections ranked statewide as the second-worst, so DelDOT developed a plan for improvements. Depending on public reactions, DelDOT will decide whether to move forward or start over with a new plan, said Monroe Hite, DelDOT project manager.

Currently, Wood Branch Road and Speedway Road cross each other and continue briefly before each intersects with Route 113. On the west side of Route 113, Wood Branch becomes Kruger Road, and Speedway becomes Alms House Road.

Using the medians, cars now access any of the roads immediately. DelDOT’s plan would limit median access. At both intersections on Route 113, drivers could exit the side road, cross the highway and turn into the opposite highway lane. Cars would be unable to completely cross the northbound and southbound lanes onto the opposite side road. Instead, they would make a U-turn on the highway. Highway drivers could only make U-turns or cross the opposite highway at the Speedway/Alms House Road intersection.

“We’re hearing that a lot that main volume of housing is on the east side,” said David Duszak, who designed the improvements with Whitman, Requadt & Associates for DelDOT. “Kruger Road has some development, and Alms House is very low-volume. We’re finding that very few people make this directly across. If they do, we can still accommodate this at the other openings.”

Hite said he’s heard the whole gamut of opinions, from the need for improvements to the desire for a stoplight.

According to Jason Lang of DelDOT, Hite said the Hazard Elimination Program suggested this plan over traffic signals because “it accommodates the heaviest turning movements or volumes at the respective crossovers, while reducing the conflict points and crashes. Adding a signal doesn’t completely eliminate the number of accidents but changes the type of accident. … Many times it is a perception that a traffic signal is safer.”

In this heavy, high-speed traffic area, side collisions are more common. A new traffic signal could instead increase rear-end crashes.

“It’s important that people understand we’re here to get input and determine what’s the best way to move forward,” Hite said. “I think everyone that’s come so far sees it’s a legitimate problem … but they may disagree on what’s the best way to pursue this.”

“Everyone I’ve talked to so far is understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Duszak.

Resident Jean Kiefer occasionally uses Kruger Road to reach her home. She said she is not happy with the plan because almost everyone she spoke to wants a stoplight, which she feels would be more cost-effective.

Kiefer said a new traffic signal would be more convenient, especially if it only turned red when sensors detected a car at the crossroads.

She also felt that the collision rate “doesn’t seem tremendously high. There are crashes everywhere if you run a study on it; you can’t eliminate all of them,” Kiefer said.

On the west side of Route 113, Paul Kruger Sr. said a lot of accidents end up in the front yard of his business, Kruger Trailers. He recommended installing a stoplight at Kruger Road because, to cross the highway, trucks currently sit for up to five minutes waiting for a break in traffic.

As unincorporated Georgetown grows as a truck route with the new Sussex Central High School building and other development, Joseph Booth, state senator for District 19, said he believed adding a stoplight and closing one of the roads would be a good solution.

“When I was mayor in Georgetown, DelDOT came through and eliminated a lot of the crossovers and medians through town … about 20 years ago, to eliminate some of the confusion,” Booth said. “So it’s interesting to see we’re trying to work to keep those open.”

“We all agree there need to be improvements at that intersection,” said Ruth Briggs King, state representative for District 37. “From what I heard, [the people] didn’t think that was the greatest solution. If you wanted to go across, you would be forced onto a busy [Route] 113 and then have to U-turn. Without any traffic lights to break up the traffic, sometimes it’s very difficult to do a U-turn.”

People using the intersection on a daily basis did not seem to like the U-turn plan, Briggs King added, and farm equipment using those intersections could shut down traffic.

Large trucks have little room to turn, so they often drive slightly onto the shoulder when making U-turns. DelDOT has considered building an extra rectangle of pavement that extends beyond the southbound highway – just enough room for a truck to make a U-turn from the northbound side.

“We’re trying to accommodate everyone still,” said Duszak.

If the current plan is approved, DelDOT designs could be completed by autumn and construction could begin early as spring of 2013.

Construction is estimated to take three weeks and cost $300,000. Roadwork would only cover 1,600 feet, or less than one-third of a mile. To reduce impact on traffic, construction is likely to only occur at night. The schedule is ultimately based on current funding for the Zoar Road, Speedway Road and Bethesda Road Intersection Improvement Project.

“I think the issue’s going to come down more so to money than design,” said Booth. “As it sits now, whatever DelDOT does has got to be better than it is now.”