It’s been 40 years or so since Joe Hudson had a flying saucer house on display at Five Points. Within a stone’s throw of that new-age modular, across Route 9, stood the white-shingled, dark-roofed and unique establishment known as the Five Points Inn. It was a throwback to an old era based on segregation of white people and colored people.
Walking into the Route 9 entrance, patrons found a long, open room with a 30-foot bar and a wall behind the bar with a serving window cut into it. Through that window, over the years, passed thousands of draft beers and other drinks for the customers who came in through the Route 23 - also known as Beaver Dam Road - entrance. Those patrons were primarily black, while the patrons on the Route 9 side were primarily white. I say primarily because occasionally out-of-town patrons, not knowing the local custom, would find themselves either a black face in a sea of white faces or vice versa.
No laws kept the patrons on either side of the wall. Lawful segregation had passed by that time. But up until the Five Points Inn succumbed to the demolition crew, birds of a feather flocked together when it came to where they chose to drink beers and sit with their friends. And they came from all directions to meet there.
Five Points referred to the five roads that came together at that intersection: clockwise starting with Route 14 (now Route 1) from the northwest, Savannah Road from the east, Plantation Road (formerly Route 275) from the southeast, Beaver Dam Road from the southwest, and Route 9 from the west. Configurations have changed over the years, but traffic continues to come at that intersection from five different directions, making it a major interchange for the east side of Sussex County.
Now, of course, it’s the home of the infamous Malfunction Junction where Plantation Road, Beaver Dam Road and Route 9 come together. That junction, which confounds all but the most seasoned drivers, clearly demonstrates the engineering conundrum that Five Points represents for the Delaware Department of Transportation.
New study on its way
Secretary Jennifer Cohan, at a recent meeting, said a consultant is being hired to study the Five Points area and propose solutions to make traffic flow better. Rural solutions won’t work. DelDOT is going with Whitman, Requardt and Associates, an engineering firm based in the heavily urbanized Baltimore environment and with offices across the U.S.
On its website, the firm shows transportation as its No. 1 area of activity. Pictures show cloverleafs and elaborate roundabouts along with bicycle and pedestrian pathways and bridges. Given the study area DelDOT is including in the scope of work for Five Points, WRA may need all of those elements and more to bring the complex intersection into the 21st century.
Bobbi Geier, assistant director of planning for DelDOT, said the study area, including the present intersection, will include Route 1 north to Minos Conaway Road (west of the Nassau overpass), Route 9 west to Minos Conaway’s other end, and Route 9 south to Old Landing Road. Stating it like that shows where the state feels the emphasis is needed. “We’re looking at Route 1,” said Geier, “but our main focus is on local traffic and local connections. The county is on board with this as a collaborative process. When we have new communities coming into the area, we have to see how we can make connections. Think grid. Many communities want cul-de-sacs and no traffic passing through, but then the people in them complain about congestion. We need connections to keep traffic moving.”
Geier said the proposed Nassau underpass will be part of the study, as will the entire Nassau area. “A new project has just been approved behind Tulip Drive [St. Jude Catholic Church], and that has to be factored in as well.”
Geier said the scope of the study work hasn’t been finalized yet, but she expects a public workshop in mid-April to show what’s developed since 2000, when DelDOT did its last major land-use study in the area. “That’s the study that produced the grid plan for the area with connections via the Western Bypass between Route 1 and Route 9 west of Five Points. The loudest critics then said if we built it they would come. That bypass proposal went away. But we’re seeing they’re coming anyway. Let’s be proactive.”
Geier said people will be surprised at how much development there’s been in the past 15 years, and how much more is approved and coming.
“The county and DelDOT have been talking about creation of a Transportation Investment District in Sussex,” said Geier. “This could be the first one.”
Sussex County and DelDOT collaborating? Sounds strange, but no more strange than the history of Five Points with its voluntarily segregated bar across the street from a flying saucer.