Five Points is the epicenter of Sussex County’s traffic woes, says County Administrator Todd Lawson. If traffic management in the county is to improve, he said, it must start with Five Points.
“Probably the comment we’ve heard the most is the status quo of our transportation system in Sussex County,” said Lawson, referencing the ongoing effort to update the comprehensive land-use plan. “It has to be addressed, and it has to be improved.”
Lawson is a member of the Department of Transportation’s Five Points working group, which is tasked with developing consensus on solutions and improvements to the Five Points area. The group’s first meeting was Dec. 18 at the Lewes Senior Center and drew a standing-room-only crowd.
The group, composed of elected officials, business owners and residents, will meet on the fourth Monday of each month until summer 2018, at least. The next meeting is slated for 6 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22, at a location to be determined. The public is permitted to speak at the end of each meeting.
In January and February, the working group identify the needs at Five Points and the surrounding area. In March, the group plans to hold a workshop to get public input on the issues.
From April to June, the goal is to develop concepts, and in July, the group will work toward consensus on concepts to present to the public in August or September. The schedule is subject to change.
DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan knows the group has its work cut out for it.
“I told my staff that we’re going to meet until we solve it,” she said. “We’re going to have at it until we get to where we need to be. We will all get there together.”
She said DelDOT presented a plan in 2007, which called for an overpass at Five Points, but the public was vehemently opposed to it.
“We had to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “Before we come out with options again, we’re going get this working group together … and then we’ll have some open and honest dialogue on how we can best solve the issues in and around this area.”
Several members of the group said they were worried the Five Points issues were unsolvable, but they’d work to find ways to ease the burden on motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
“I’m not an expert in engineering, but I think I’m smart enough to know when something might work,” said County Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View. “I certainly know what doesn’t work, and that’s what we have now.”
DJ Hughes, a traffic engineer with Davis, Bowen and Friedel in Milford, said DelDOT must consider improvements at other intersections that contribute to the problems at Five Points. He said officials should consider moving forward with the proposed underpass at the Nassau bridge, an overpass at Cave Neck Road and the realignment of Old Orchard Road before building an overpass at Route 16 and Route 1.
“We need to find ways to divert traffic away from Five Points in lieu of funneling multiple roads through one point,” he said.
Hughes said DelDOT’s decision to eliminate all traffic lights from New Castle County to Five Points is one source of the problems.
Christian Hudson, a local business owner, applauded DelDOT for taking a new community-based approach to planning.
“In the past it’s been very top-down – here’s the solution to your problem,” he said. “I’m happy with this bottom-up approach. I think this is exactly how we can work to solve our problems.”
Working group members
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes
Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach
Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton
I.G. Burton, Sussex County Council
George Cole, Sussex County Council
R. Keller Hopkins, Sussex County Planning & Zoning
Todd Lawson, Sussex County administrator
Ann Marie Townshend, Lewes city manager
Gail van Gilder, Historic Lewes Scenic Byway Committee chair
Josh Thomas, DelDOT project manager
DJ Hughes, traffic engineer with Davis, Bowen and Friedel
Linda Best, business owner
Dennis Forney, business owner
Christian Hudson, business owner
Pat Woods, business owner
Robert Fischer, resident
Scott Green, resident
Lloyd Schmitz, resident