One hobby picked up by more and more southern Delaware residents in recent years is staring at brake lights. Many would prefer to try something new, like getting to destinations on time.
That’s a goal the Department of Transportation would like to help with, and among a slew of road projects downstate is a grand plan over the coming years to install overpasses at 13 intersections along Route 113, a major reshaping of the road that will turn it into more or less a restricted access highway.
“If you drive through Georgetown … during especially that afternoon peak it is a brutal experience, lots of congestion,” DelDOT Deputy Secretary Shanté Hastings said.
Linda Price, executive director of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, backed that up, saying people have been complaining for years about the traffic and it’s especially bad in the summer. She said backups have increased.
The Route 113 overhaul will start just south of Milford and run all the way to the bottom of the state, with overpasses replacing many intersections with signals along the route. Hastings said Milford isn't included because when the Department of Transportation was planning for the project in the early 2000s, a working group in the Milford area did not want to see 113 become a limited access road in town, or have have an overhaul of the Route 1 connection.
The project includes several major intersections, like Route 16 and 113, and further south, Route 404/18 and 113 in Georgetown.
The work parallels changes on Route 1. Travelers have seen a number of intersections there transformed, like the recently finished one in Frederica, and there are several more overpasses in the works. Route 16 is also slated to get an overpass soon at Route 1, so it’s a busy time for that road. Officials noted issues with crashes at Route 16 and its intersections with both 113 and 1.
Hastings said the idea with all the improvements is to deal proactively with increasing traffic, not to make 113 a high-speed road. The speed limit will stay at its current 55 mph. Businesses and homes will still have direct access to the road, she said, and “we don’t want to create a feeling for the drivers that hey, this is … truly a freeway.”
For years, the department has been planning how to keep traffic flowing on its main north-south arteries: routes 1, 113, and 13. The plans for each route are different, and take into account traffic projections decades ahead. Because there's so much development along Route 13 running through western Sussex, Hastings said, turning that into a limited access highway won’t work. But Route 113 is still a little more rural.
One intersection that’s definitely not rural is where 18/404 crosses 113 on the north side of Georgetown. In addition to the overpass, the road will also be widened to three lanes each way in that area. The state is working now with businesses clustered around the intersection to acquire right-of-way, a process that could take a couple of years yet and is of course causing a certain amount of upheaval.
“We need to treat them all fairly and give them all enough time to digest all the information we’ve provided and negotiate,” Hastings said. “It does take a long time.”
One big concern for the town is Boulevard Ford, part of the Preston Auto chain and located near the intersection. Price said it’s been hard to find another location in town big enough to meet the business's needs, but Preston leaving is something nobody wants to see. The town is still working on keeping it around.
Other businesses affected include Hardee’s, Royal Farms, State Farm and a NAPA Auto Parts store (NAPA had just moved into the location and now will have to leave, but it does have a new spot lined up, Price said).
Still, she hasn’t heard much pushback on the overpass project, Price said, given the traffic problems there, although she’s taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether the overpass will actually reduce traffic.
“I think people are trying to figure things out,” she said.
Some of these projects are years out, only in the early planning stages at this point and without state money lined up yet. Others will happen sooner. Construction on the 404 overpass in Georgetown is projected to start in 2024. The Route 16/113 overpass has an estimated start date of 2027. Design may begin on the Route 9 overpass in 2027 as well, a project Hastings called a desperate need. To the east where 16 meets Route 1, construction is set to begin this spring.
A map of the projects planned shows a lineup of overpasses slated for more minor intersections on Route 113, from Staytonville/Fleatown road in Lincoln in the north, to a number of crossings from Ellendale south to Millsboro. Extra lanes are also planned in the Millsboro area.
Overpasses in the works on Route 1 to the east, in addition to the Route 16 intersection mentioned earlier, include at Minos Conaway (construction estimated to begin in 2023) and Cave Neck Road (2025). The Minos Conaway work will include a roundabout at the Nassau Bridge and a change to the popular bike trail there.
DelDOT project manager Bryan Behrens, speaking about future work during an online public meeting on Wednesday, said the bike trail will shift to go behind the piers that support the Nassau Bridge. A section of road will follow the course of the current bike path.
Such a big overhaul of major routes like this will of course slow traffic through the area during construction and residents may grow weary of traffic cones in the years ahead.
“We’ve had some discussions with constituents who feel like, you know, can you just do one thing?” Hastings said. But with increasing safety and congestion issues, she said, DelDOT has decided to get these projects done as they’re needed rather than trying to spread them out more.
Most times, she said, the roads won’t be shut down completely while crews build the overpasses. If workers do need to shut down roads, they’ll try to do it at night.
Will driving be a breeze once all these projects are done? Hastings isn’t predicting that. It’s hard to tell how work like this will affect traffic, she said. A case in point was work done near the Christiana Mall that resulted in a traffic increase, possibly because people had been avoiding the area before because of congestion but started using it again after the improvements.
Still, DelDOT wants to start tackling the issues.
“In general, we’re trying to plan significantly into the future,” Hastings said.