Kings Highway: A much-debated stretch of road

Project includes widening and roundabouts at five intersections
February 29, 2024

Never has 1.6 miles of roadway been so discussed, debated and commented on than the Kings Highway corridor in Lewes.

Kings Highway is one of the most distinctive roads in the state. As one of three access points to Lewes, it also handles traffic from Cape Henlopen High School, Cape Henlopen State Park, ambulances going to Beebe Healthcare, local communities, businesses and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Backups and delays are commonplace during certain periods of the day and season.

Talk of improving the highway has been going on for years. The Delaware Department of Transportation now has a project on the drawing board, which includes five roundabouts, sidewalks, landscaping in the median, shared-use paths on both sides and nine bus stops.

The project includes four lanes between the Dartmouth Drive and Gills Neck Road roundabouts, and two lanes between the Gills Neck Road and Freeman Highway roundabouts.

Two existing traffic signals at Clay Road and Gills Neck Road will be removed and replaced with roundabouts. Other roundabouts will be at Dartmouth Drive, with a dedicated bypass lane for Route 1 north-exiting traffic; Freeman Highway; and a yet-to-be-built intersection with a roundabout at the Lodge at Historic Lewes and the Mitchell’s Corner housing project.

All of the roundabouts will have crosswalks with rapid-flashing beacons.

The Clay Road roundabout will connect with the entrance to the yet-to-be-built Village Center shopping center along the highway.

The Gills Neck Road roundabout will serve as a new entrance to Cape Henlopen High School.

The Kings Highway/Gills Neck Road master plan was considered by DelDOT in designing the project.

The estimated preliminary cost is $28 million, but in all likelihood the final cost will increase once bids are received.

A tale of two sides

Two local groups have opposing views of the proposed project.

The Kings Highway Business Association, comprising more than 50 businesses, says the project would impede access to dozens of businesses, especially those in the area of the proposed Freeman Highway-Kings Highway roundabout at the north end of the project.

Members of the Historic Lewes Byway Committee say the five roundabouts are the best alternative to make traffic flow smoothly and safely. They also applaud DelDOT’s plan to provide extensive landscaping in the median and in the middle of the roundabouts.

Kings Highway has been designated as a route on the byway. The Kings Highway/Gills Neck Road master plan, written by the City of Lewes, DelDOT and the Historic Lewes Byway Committee, was considered in the plans. Committee members have met with DelDOT staff on several occasions to ensure the project adheres to the master plan for the byway.

Jay Tomlinson, who lives on Gills Neck Road, has followed the development of the project more than anyone else. He agrees with the byway committee. He said DelDOT has met with stakeholders, including Lewes in Bloom, city officials, businesses and others, to make an effort to accommodate designs that reduce the project’s impact while retaining capacity improvements.

Tomlinson sends out alerts on meetings and updates via email to a large group of citizens. In addition, he said, developers of yet-to-be-built projects, such as the Village Center, have also worked with DelDOT to incorporate their plans into the project.

“All are not happy, but it is not likely to be the case with most anything involving change,” he said.

Businesses could suffer

Mark Chura, who owns the Brush Factory with his wife, Christine, is an outspoken critic of the plan. He said the project is completely out of step with the rhythm and scale of historic Lewes.

“The recent DelDOT plan to transform our local road into a four-lane, limited-access highway threatens our existence,” he said.

Chura said years of construction would result in shutdowns and detours, and will likely mean the end to some businesses. “We cannot see how the road can possibly remain open while this type of demolition and expansion is going forward,” he said.

“Those that survive will face the fate of having potential customers first deliberately pass by our businesses, and then navigate one or more roundabouts to actually enter our businesses on the other side of the highway,” he said.

In addition, some businesses will be accessed via a dead-end road.

Chura added that it’s a counterintuitive driving movement that many will choose not to do. “Our association believes that the reach of this project has gone too far,” he said.

DelDOT officials say they have addressed that situation. The plan shows that all entrances not connected to a roundabout will become right-in, right-out with left turns prohibited.

All left turns will be completed via U-turns at roundabouts. “While this will result in vehicles traveling a farther distance, traffic studies show that the looping movements can be completed in equal or less time compared to waiting to make a left turn directly to or from Kings Highway,” according to the master plan integration report.

Speaking for the association, Chura said there is merit in the first roundabout at Dartmouth Drive and a four-lane divided highway between this area and Gills Neck Road.

“It is our collective belief that the remaining stretch of the highway to Freeman Highway should be largely left alone,” he said.

At the very least, Chura said, the median should be removed and a left-turn lane should be installed in that stretch.

Roundabouts are safer

Tomlinson said the alternative to roundabouts are traffic signals, which would require much more land to add through and turn lanes.

“Roundabouts are safer because travel speeds are lower and head-on accidents are mitigated. If we do some roundabouts and traffic signals, we defeat the purpose of traffic flow,” he said.

He said the roundabouts will safely allow free flow of vehicles during normal and peak usage times, vacation months, and to accommodate future traffic growth.

“The roundabout plan reduces right-of-way needs and allows for landscaping and safety improvements for cycling and pedestrians,” he added.

The master plan

The project is being built to integrate with the Kings Highway/Gills Neck Road master plan in seven areas of design development.

DelDOT planners say the design is consistent with the plan by increasing traffic capacity along the corridor, by providing intersection control that improves traffic operations, by including roundabouts as traffic calming and speed reduction with raised crosswalks for better visibility, by providing landscaping in the median with curbs, by permitting full and safe access from each direction to all properties, and by providing pedestrian and bicycle access with beaconed crosswalks and a shared-use path the entire length of the project.

While the improvements will impact the Warren Golde Gateway Garden, DelDOT staff have discussed three replacement gardens with Lewes in Bloom, which will include relocation of the Lewes lighthouse to a site within the Freeman Highway roundabout.

DelDOT will perform selective maintenance, and sponsorships will be sought for maintenance of additional landscaping.

New projects in area

Several developments have been approved by Sussex County Council for the Kings Highway corridor.

Village Center Cottages, with 102 units on 25.5 acres, will be built near the Kings Highway/Gills Neck Road intersection with access from Gills Neck. County council approved a rezoning and conditional use for the project in 2023.

Village Center shopping center along Kings Highway will have a connection to the cottages. The parcel was rezoned to B-1, neighborhood business district, in 2022, which has a limitation of no more than 75,000 square feet of commercial space.

Mitchell’s Corner will have 267 mixed housing units and a commercial/office building of 43,200 square feet on a 44-acre parcel. Site work on the project is underway. Sussex County Council approved two rezonings and a conditional use for it in 2022.

Because of the widening of Kings Highway (all widening will occur on the east side of the road), the developer was required to dedicate 65 feet of right of way.

Property acquisition

The property acquisition process is scheduled to begin in late 2025. If private property is required, DelDOT has a department dedicated to the purchase of rights of way.

DelDOT must provide a fair-market value in writing, and owners can accompany the appraiser. An owner has the right to have their own appraisal done, which is reviewed by DelDOT.

If an agreement is not reached, DelDOT and the owner move to a settlement process, and if an agreement is still not reached, the agency can move to acquire the right of way through eminent domain, which is a process rarely used by DelDOT.

If relocation of a residence or business is required, homeowners or tenants are provided with various options, including housing/rental supplements and moving costs.

For businesses, moving costs and reestablishment expenses, as well as advisory assistance, are offered.

Proposed timeline

Winter 2025 – Right-of-way acquisition (takes about three years)

2027-28 – Utility relocation (one year)

Fiscal years 2028-32 – Construction (three to four years)

For more information, go to

Comments will be accepted until Monday, March 25. To make a comment, email, mail to DelDOT Public Relations, P.O. Box 778, Dover, DE 19903, or call 800-652-5600 or 302-760-2080.


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