Route 1 crossovers: Cars stack up, so do crashes

Since 2012, five intersections have seen 212 collisions
September 15, 2017

A school bus with two students still on board was stopped in a crossover median, waiting to merge onto Route 1 northbound, when it was struck by a car.

The bus driver and a boy on the bus were uninjured; an 11-year-old girl was later taken to a hospital for an undetermined injury.

But the driver of the car was trapped when his car became stuck under the bus. The 26-year-old man was flown to Christiana Medical Center in critical condition.

“These crossovers are crazy,” said a neighbor who came out to witness the commotion off Reynolds Road. “The cars come so fast, you can't see them coming.”

It’s a scenario played out daily up and down the dual highway from the Milton area and south to Lewes.

Waiting at a highway crossover on Route 1, drivers might see their lives flash before their eyes. Many drivers don't understand the rules for properly crossing the highway; others simply ignore them. Cars move haphazardly, in and out of the narrow wedge of land that lies between the busy highway’s north- and southbound lanes.

In a stretch of Route 1 from Five Points north to the Route 16 interchange, a number of crossovers allow drivers to cross the highway. For many, navigating them is like a real-life version of Frogger,  the video game featuring a frog maneuvering through busy highway traffic trying not to become road splat.

“Things get messy in the crossovers,” said Mark Luszcz, chief traffic engineer for the Delaware Department of Transportation. “That stretch of road is particularly busy in the summer.”

Long lines of vehicles waiting to cross the highway stack up on both sides of Route 1, but long queues are only part of the problem. Vehicles also commonly stack up on the highway, as drivers on Route 1 use crossovers to exit the highway. Turn signals are optional, and no one knows who should go next.

Precious real estate meant for one car in each direction often turns into a four-car squeeze. “Sometimes, even if they're not on Route 1, they are still blocking each other,” Luszcz said.

He said drivers should treat a crossover like a very short road. “You're supposed to stay right,” he said.

Other than that, the rules are vague. He acknowledged there is no hard-and-fast rule that prevents cars from stacking up four abreast in a crossover.

“The rules of the crossover depend on signage and striping,” Luszcz said. “When you get a busy intersection on a road like Route 1, then there's not necessarily an easy solution on how to best sort all that out and how to best put all the signage and striping to minimize all those conflict.”

Master Cpl. Gary Fournier of the Delaware State Police said there are signs at some crossovers designating single vehicle traffic only in a crossover. “That way we can enforce it if they're stacking up,” he said.

But in the five crossovers starting at Nassau Road up to the Route 16 traffic light, there are no such signs. Most have only stop signs or yield signs.

The state driver manual makes no mention of rules of the road when using a crossover. It does offer advice for a four-way stop: “The driver reaching the intersection first, goes first after coming to a complete stop. If more than one vehicle arrives at the same time, the vehicle on the right goes first.”

Luszcz said DelDOT officials are reviewing crashes and collecting data to develop a plan for the Route 1 crossovers. An overpass at Route 16 – although years away – could make it even harder for cars to find that precious break in traffic in order to bolt across lanes. The farther away from a traffic signal, the less the light will offer gaps in congestion, he said.

“If you're down at Cave Neck, you really don't see any impact from the Route 16 traffic light,” he said. 

Luszcz said a working group will delve into whether to add signs and other solutions this fall, and will have a better plan formulated by winter.

“There are issues at some of the crossovers, but we're taking a look at them, and seeing what we can do to improve them,” he said.

Crashes stack up

A review of crashes since 2012 shows the Cave Neck Road crossover is the most dangerous, with 61 crashes, nine involving injuries. “That's a crazy intersection, a crazy crossover,” Fournier said.

At Route 16, there were 48 crashes, while the Nassau Road crossover tallied 43. “The majority of the crashes at this intersection are caused by people failing to yield the right of way to northbound or southbound traffic entering from Janice Road, Nassau Road, or the crossovers,” Fournier said.

At the Minos Conaway Road crossover, 33 crashes occurred, while Hudson Road saw 27 crashes. Eagle Crest Road is the safest of the crossovers, with 9 crashes, perhaps because of visibility, Fournier said.

“I think you have a clear shot at everything coming down Route 1,” he said.