Kings Highway plan: Not perfect but best plan yet devised

April 19, 2024

DelDOT’s plan for Kings Highway has unleashed a vibrant exchange of views on the pages of the Cape Gazette. Questions abound: Why have they put forth such a controversial plan? How could they put such confidence in roundabouts? And why so many? Did they really try to accommodate all the interests likely to be affected? 

These same questions occurred to the Historic Lewes Byway Committee when we first saw the five-roundabout proposal. For that reason, we asked DelDOT to hire the independent national roundabout consultant, Kittleson Associates. The firm made recommendations, provided additional safety data and met with businesses. DelDOT sought to accommodate as many concerns as possible and made numerous changes in the plan to address business concerns, improve safety and encourage traffic flow.

Before diving into detail, here are four takeaway points:

1. DelDOT has studied this project extensively, spending considerable money and effort in designing a plan to improve both traffic flow and safety

2. Those now asking “isn’t there some way to make everyone happy?” need to realize that DelDOT has made such an effort – repeatedly

3. Moving forward, DelDOT needs to work with businesses along the highway to devise a plan that will expedite construction and mitigate impacts

4. Delaying action on Kings Highway is not a plan and runs the risk that funding will be directed elsewhere.

In 2015-16, the Historic Lewes Byway Committee worked with a broad group of Lewes residents, businesses, elected officials and DelDOT to develop the Kings Highway and Gills Neck Road Master Plan. It provides a coherent vision for the future of these state-designated byway roads. Its goals were clear: Avoid bringing the chaos of Route 1 development into Lewes; ensure that Kings Highway would become an attractive landscaped gateway to Lewes for visitors and residents alike; increase road capacity; improve safety and traffic flow for all users (bikers, pedestrians, vehicles). See the plan at

Achieving those goals became more difficult over the past decade as Sussex County and the City of Lewes approved numerous proposals for new residential and commercial developments that increased traffic volume and shrank the right of way DelDOT has available. We warned of the consequences at many hearings and meetings, but DelDOT’s ability to create intersections with traffic lights, separate left and right turn lanes, and two through lanes in each direction has virtually disappeared – unless it takes more right of way from existing businesses. With the amount of right of way remaining, roundabouts are the best way to keep traffic moving and achieve the traffic goals. 

No one wants to make Kings Highway more like Coastal Highway, with perpetual stop-and-go traffic. Using traditional traffic lights given the available right of way, even if they are synchronized, will not achieve a steady flow of traffic. Some suggest there should be fewer roundabouts – one at Dartmouth Drive and one at the beginning of Freeman Highway, but traffic would still be halted by lights at the other three problem points and create backups.

Safety is a paramount concern. Traffic engineers will tell you, there are eight potential collision points in a roundabout. There are 32 such points at a traffic light. Roundabouts are safer than traffic lights. They are also safer to cross than six-lane intersections. Similarly, drivers making left turns into business parking lots run the risk of collision with oncoming traffic and back up traffic moving in the same direction. Prohibiting those turns and requiring drivers to instead use the next roundabout seems like a reasonable request in the name of safety.

Leaving Kings Highway the way it is will leave all of us forever stuck in traffic. After gathering additional information, we became convinced that the DelDOT plan was the best option remaining for Kings Highway – not perfect, but most likely to achieve progress. Lewes residents will hopefully take a second look.

Gail Van Gilder, Joseph A. Pika and Jay Tomlinson are members of the Kings Highway Subcommittee of Historic Lewes Byway Committee.
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter