BRIDGEVILLE, DEL. -- Leroy Truitt used to be president of the Baltimore Trust Bank on Market Street here, but now he dons a straw fedora and sits in his front yard, counting traffic with a little hand-held clicker. He hit a record two weeks ago last Saturday -- 2,019 vehicles along Market Street between 11 a.m. and noon.
That's a lot of cars, considering the town only has 1,238 people.
To thousands of Washington area residents each weekend, beach traffic defines the town of Bridgeville, whose large, old, wooden, tree-shaded houses surrounded by soy and corn fields are positioned between Washington and Delaware's beaches.
It is home of the big blue water tower looming above town and the Richard and Paul Adams Scrapple Co. that churns out 150,000 pounds of scrapple a week. But the 38,000 cars that go through Bridgeville on a typical summer weekend end up dominating the town, turning pedestrians into traffic cops and quiet streets into noisy parking lots.
Rather than bring business into town, the traffic has scared people away. It has made crossing streets hazardous, and even the traffic ticket revenue generated by out-of-town motorists does not help much, residents said.
"It's kind of a mess here in town," said Joseph Wiley, 85, a retired postal worker who is treasurer of the Bridgeville Savings and Loan Association. "The beach traffic didn't do this town any good. It's a ghost town on Market Street. Only a few businesses are left. Progres- AT THE BEACH Another in a series of occasional articles sively, Market Street has just dried up."
It is Bridgeville's fate to lie on Rte. 404 about halfway between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Delaware beaches -- Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany. Part of the highway has four lanes, but then the traffic passes the big roadside sign that reads: "Bridgeville: If you lived here, you would be home NOW." And with that, it enters the small, two-lane Market Street and heads past the scrapple company, the supermarket, the firehouse and the hardware store. For a few hundred yards, beachgoers drive slowly through the heart of a rural town.
"It's really an extreme inconvenience," said Walter Gilefski, a math and science teacher at the local high school who is president of the Bridgeville Board of Commissioners. "It's just constant traffic. It's like a knife sliding right through the heart of town.
"You just can't cross the streets to go to the IGA" supermarket on Market Street, he added. "If you are turning against the flow of traffic, it gets to be impossible. You do your grocery shopping on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There's back alleys off some of the streets. People leave by the back ways."
Rosalie Kelly, who was relaxing in the shade behind the Lions Club's oyster sandwich stand on Sunday, recommended marching bravely into the thick of the traffic with one hand outstretched like a traffic cop's. To pull out of a driveway or a side road, she said, send someone out into the street to stop the traffic.
Although beachgoers often believe that the town makes a fortune off of speeding tickets, Gilefski said, ticket revenue does not even cover the cost of running a three-person police force. "We get a bad rap for being a speed trap," said Ron Hatfield, another resident. "But if I went over to D.C. and ran through your neighborhoods where you're kids were playing, you'd want the police to stop people, too."
Indeed, Gilefski and others in Bridgeville said the beachgoers show little inclination to stop in Bridgeville and spend money. "Hardly anyone stops," said a restaurant owner on Market Street, who asked to remain anonymous. "They are afraid they'll lose their place in the traffic. They're afraid by the time they get to the beach the water will be gone."
Many of the businesses on Market Street are boarded up, and many residents said they prefer to go shopping where the stores are bigger and more plentiful.
John Bailey, who works at the Tru Blu gas station at Market and Main streets, said he reckons that most people get gas before they leave for the beaches. Although many stop at Tru Blu, he said the traffic probably frightens away a lot of locals who would buy gas during the weekend.
And many beachgoers cut through the gas station to avoid the traffic lights, he said. "If you don't look both ways when you walk out to the pumps you'll get run over, " he said.
Wiley, who has lived in Bridgeville all his life, recalled when his town was known as the strawberry capital of the world. More than 100 boxcars of strawberries left Bridgeville each day during the strawberry seasons of the early 1900s. But by the 1930s, he said, farmers could not find enough cheap labor to make it worthwhile. Many Bridgeville families made money on the side by picking holly from nearby forests and making wreaths, he said. But then plastic wreaths became popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
These days, the people of Bridgeville work at an assortment of industries. About 50 are employed at the scrapple company. Several dozen work at a nearby frozen vegetable plant. Some work in orchards and on farms outside of town. Many work at the Du Pont plant in nearby Seaford.
Residents said they hope that a bypass will soon be built, detouring traffic around their town.
Paula Lehrer, a spokeswoman for Delaware Transportation Secretary Kermitt H. Justice, said a bypass is ranked 17th on a list of 22 major state highway priorities. She said planning and design work is scheduled to begin soon and construction should begin by 1994.
But until the bypass is built, the people of Bridgeville expect the traffic to get worse. "It seems like people are coming earlier in the weekends and going home later," Gilefski said. "And it seems like traffic is coming earlier and later in the year too. Sometimes it's just god-awful."