DelDOT planning for Route 9 growth

Coastal Corridors study offers recommendations to improve busy road
April 2, 2024

With two large mixed-use developments in the pipeline along Route 9, there is much concern about how the roadway will handle the added daily traffic.

The Delaware Department of Transportation’s Coastal Corridors Committee is one of the groups looking at long-term solutions for such problems.

Over the last four-plus years, the group has met to discuss major east-west arteries in northern Sussex County and worked to inform stakeholders in order to build consensus and support for recommendations along Route 9 and Route 16 east of Route 113.

In total, 40 recommendations were made – 14 for Route 9, 15 for Route 16, and 11 that are general in nature. The next steps are finalizing the plan and implementation. This article will focus on Route 9; a separate story on Route 16 appeared in the March 26 edition.

Leah Kacanda of DelDOT consultant Whitman, Requardt and Associates said many of the recommendations are focused on providing safe multimodal transportation to ensure bicyclists and pedestrians can travel along and across what are expected to be busier roads in the future.

In the case of Route 9, she said, DelDOT has already completed many projects to improve flow. Signalized intersections are essentially built out with turn lanes, sufficient storage, bike lanes and pedestrian accommodations where appropriate. Many of the more significant unsignalized intersections have turn lanes and bike lanes. There are a few locations left that may benefit from improvements, but generally, bigger-picture solutions are needed.

“We know the road needs to be widened, period,” Kacanda said. “Even without specific developments coming in, just based on what we see from the projected traffic model.”

Steve Harr of WRA said the team tracked vehicles from the Bay Bridge to see where they traveled. While many vehicles continued on Route 50 to points south, a large group broke off into Delaware. The focus area for the Coastal Corridors study zeroed in on the area between Route 113 and Route 1. The study found 11,000 to 12,000 vehicles use Route 9 daily through Georgetown. The numbers rose in Harbeson, with 12,000 to 13,000 travelers daily. Numbers rose again approaching Lewes, with about 15,300 cars using Route 9 each day. By 2050, projections show the daily traffic count could reach as high as 20,000, which is a common threshold for roadway dualization.

Unlike Route 16, where traffic increased 25% to 30% in the summer, Route 9 has more of a year-round traffic use. The study found the vehicle count on Route 9 rose 5% to 10% in the summer.

There are already plans to expand Route 9 to four lanes as part of the Malfunction Junction project near Five Points. There are also plans to extend the four-lane section to Old Vine Boulevard near the new Redner’s Fresh Market, then later to Sweetbriar Road/Dairy Farm Road at Hopkins Dairy Farm.

The ultimate goal is eventually to widen it to Route 5 in Harbeson.

“The real pinch point on Route 9 right now is the intersection with Route 5,” Kacanda said. “There was just a really big [transportation] project there, and the department made it pretty much as big as it can be. There is a lot going on there. As we look at how big [Route 9] can get, we’re going to start at that intersection. Because until we know what can actually be done there, it’s going to be difficult to address capacity improvements east of that point.”

Kacanda said the Route 9/Route 5 intersection is expected to be at capacity by 2050 if no other improvements are added.

DelDOT is funding a Route 9 corridor study that is set to begin in July. The goals are to address physical constraints on intersection expansion and widening, the next phase of population- and traffic-growth analysis, safety, multimodal movement, development and access management, and assessment of alternatives.

DelDOT is also working with Sussex County to advance policy recommendations.

There are significant development pressures along this corridor, and land development regulations should be addressed to ensure sufficient public right of way is set aside to accommodate future infrastructure needs, Kacanda said.

The elephants in the room are two major projects.

The proposed Cool Spring Crossing community comprises 1,922 residential units, including 584 single-family home units, 432 multifamily units and 906 duplex/townhomes, with 174 affordable apartments. The parcel encompasses 637 acres east of Harbeson. The plan also contains 411,000 square feet of commercial space. At buildout, the community is projected to generate 30,000 average daily vehicle trips.

Closer to Lewes across from The Vineyards is Northstar, a proposed mixed-use community with 758 single-family homes, 94 multifamily affordable units and 96,000 square feet of commercial on 433 acres. At buildout, the average daily traffic would be 13,359 trips.

DelDOT Director of Community Relations Charles “C.R.” McLeod said Northstar falls within the Henlopen Transportation Improvement District; therefore, its traffic is included in the 2050 forecast. Cool Spring Crossing’s potential traffic is not included because the traffic impact study for the project is not yet complete. 

“The estimates made in that TIS could certainly impact the numbers that we have been working with to date, which is something the planning team will consider as the process moves forward,” McLeod said.

Kacanda said the upcoming corridor study will look at Route 9 long term, while DelDOT Director of Planning Pam Steinebech and her team will focus on the near term.

“This kind of gets into the traffic-impact statements developers are required to do as opposed to our study horizon,” Kacanda said. “We’re not kicking off [the corridor study] until July, and I see this process taking probably 18 months to wrap up. There are going to be development proposals coming in throughout.”

While the corridor study is ongoing, Steinebech’s team will check the traffic-impact statement for any new development and verify it based on background growth. Her team also coordinates with Sussex County Planning & Zoning as it relates to the comprehensive plan and zoning issues.

Kacanda noted that these larger developments will be built in phases.

“Some of the build out for these is 20 years out, so we’re not going to see traffic doubling tomorrow,” she said. “In that regard, there’s time for us to plan for infrastructure for future build out. If anything, it highlights the importance of this effort.”

Once the Coastal Corridors Committee’s final plan is posted, the public will have 30 days to make comments. A spring public workshop is also planned. A meeting will be held in the fall to discuss implementation status.

Route 9 recommendations
  • Conduct parking and circulation study for downtown Georgetown
  • Complete an area circulation study for the area east of Sand Hill Road, including Sports at the Beach and the new campground/RV park
  • Evaluate Route 9/Route 30 intersection for the addition of channelized islands and crosswalks on all legs to facilitate safe pedestrian and bicycle movement
  • Provide low-stress bicycle and pedestrian connection from the Route9/Route 5 intersection to the future Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail
  • Study feasibility of widening Route 9 at Route 5
  • Explore the feasibility of widening Route 9 east of Route 5
  • Conduct analysis to determine appropriate setback requirements along Route 9 between Route 1 and Georgetown
  • Create uniform setback requirement across all zoning districts along Route 9 between Route 1 and Georgetown
  • Conduct short-term traffic study for the intersection of Route 9 and Cool Spring Road to include turn lanes, signage improvements and pavement markings
  • Provide at-grade bicycle and pedestrian connection across Route 9 at Cool Spring Road that ties into the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail
  • Conduct short-term traffic-safety study for the intersection of Route 9 and Josephs Road to include turn lanes, signage improvements and pavement markings. Explore feasibility of a bicycle and pedestrian connection across Route 9
  • Evaluate the intersection of Route 9 and Sweebriar Road/Dairy Farm Road for the addition of channelized islands and crosswalks on all legs. Explore feasibility of providing a low-stress bicycle and pedestrian connection between the intersection and the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail
  • Explore feasibility of providing bicycle and pedestrian connection across Route 9 at Mulberry Knoll Road extension
  • Explore feasibility of providing bicycle and pedestrian connectivity across Route 9 in the vicinity of Old Vine Boulevard
General recommendations
  • Conduct a study to highlight safety, operational and economic benefits of interconnectivity for all road users. This document should educate decision makers and the public to support revisions to the comprehensive plan and justify recommendations to amend code
  • In the next comprehensive plan update, consider including language encouraging interconnectivity to improve safety and manage volumes on roadways
  • Explore the feasibility of clarifying Sussex County Code Chapters 115 and 99 to require private developers to plan and provide interconnectivity between developments
  • Where interconnectivity currently exists between developments, it should only be removed after consultation with core agencies including DelDOT, Sussex County and Delaware Emergency Management Agency. Explore the feasibility of codifying this requirement in the mobility chapter of the comprehensive plan and Sussex County code
  • Explore the feasibility of updating the Development Coordination Manual to increase the provision of connections between developments
  • Explore code revisions to reduce the extent to which parking and stormwater facilities are permitted in the front-yard setback
  • Consider modifications to land development regulations and/or the Development Coordination Manual that require additional buffers/setbacks for all new developments to support future right-of-way needs
  • Explore the feasibility of developing additional guidance and design criteria that highlight what types of landscaping treatments are appropriate in the front-yard setback
  • Review all trail crossings for active or enhanced bicycle and pedestrian crossing improvements where appropriate
  • Improve coordination between Sussex County and DelDOT during large-scale events hosted at venues to ensure traffic is adequately managed
  • Evaluate efficacy of Capital Transportation Program projects to ensure safety, capacity and multimodal connectivity goals have been met.


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