This image depicts DelDOT’s Preferred Alternative for a grade-separated intersection at Routes 113 and 404 in Georgetown, utilizing an overpass.

The landscape of Georgetown will change this decade. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) has fleshed out plans for a grade-separated intersection at U.S. Route 113 and State Routes 18/404.

DelDOT has long planned to remove the traffic signal so that Routes 18/404 would cross Route 113 as an overpass. At a Feb. 19 public workshop, the public learned that the on-ramps will be placed in the northeast and southwest quadrants of the highway — most notably the corners containing farmland near the college and a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store. But another 40 properties will need to be fully or partially acquired.

Construction would begin in 2023 or 2023, and would last three years. After the design is finalized, the construction schedule will then be finalized.

“We’re trying to alleviate congestion, as well as reduce accidents” for both local and regional travelers, said Mark Whiteside, a DelDOT project manager.

The project will also include widening one mile of Route 113 to provide three lanes in each direction from Bedford Street to Ennis Street. The third lane can be built using excess land from the wide center medians.

The overpass bridge itself will have two traffic signals to help Route 113 traffic merge up onto Routes 18 or 404.

To improve traffic flow on Route 113, DelDOT will also remove three median crossovers between (but not including) Ennis Street and the overpass.

Sidewalks will be installed throughout the project zone and are considered especially critical with the nearby college, shopping and government services in that area. Every property impacted will get a redesigned entrance to the highway.

“It works the best, quality-of-traffic-wise,” Whiteside said. “As we design these projects, we look at traffic volumes 20, 30 years down the road.”

This intersection “currently operates at a failing level of service and has one of the highest number of annual reported crashes in the U.S. 113 Georgetown Area,” according to DelDOT. But this “preferred alternative” is expected to improve the intersection to a Level B service level through the year 2040.

“This is a building block for a long-term plan,” Whiteside said.

In response to increased traffic and anticipation of future development, DelDOT has been studying the entire Route 113 corridor for years as part of the long-term U.S. Route 113 North/South Study (https://deldot.gov/information/projects/us113/index.shtml). Currently, Sussex County has few overpasses, but DelDOT is considering creating up to 13 of them between Ellendale and Millsboro, plus four other various projects to improve the corridor.

Design is under way for grade-separated intersections at Route 16 in Ellendale and Route 20 in Millsboro, which will flow into a north Millsboro bypass to Route 24.

Construction would occur at Routes 18/404 and in Millsboro around the same time. To minimize the pain for travelers, DelDOT would complete as much side work as possible before implementing detours. They would also avoid Route 113 lane closures during the peak summer season.

The preliminary cost estimate is about $26 million for construction, plus $36.2 million for land acquisition (of which the federal government will pay approximately 80 percent of each). Those numbers will become more accurate as DelDOT finalizes the plans.

Several homes and businesses will be lost or relocated as a result of the project. Currently, 22 properties are proposed to be fully acquired, plus portions of another 20 properties.

“Please note that final [right of way] plans have not yet been approved. The amount of full acquisitions can be subjected to change,” said Charles “C.R.” McLeod, DelDOT spokesperson.

The State may also buy out the properties that are too closely “adjacent to the proposed ramps, acceleration lanes and deceleration lanes … if providing alternative access [to a public road] is not possible.”

According to the project map, those planned acquisitions appear to impact Royal Farms, Boulevard Auto Sales, Napa Auto Parts, Shore Distributors, a State Farm insurance office and others.

“We have started discussion with them. We want to be as transparent as we can,” Whiteside said of the people there.

DelDOT has a detailed process for purchasing private property, including opportunities for appraisal and negotiation, before eminent domain is invoked. DelDOT offers moving costs and, for businesses, re-establishment expenses and advisory assistance.

Various traffic configurations were presented for public feedback in February of 2018. If DelDOT were to host any more public events on the Georgetown project, it might just be to show construction phasing and timelines.

“We’ve been talking about this project for a long time. People know this is coming,” said Mike Simmons, assistant director of Transportation Solutions for DelDOT, adding that he therefore wasn’t hearing major concerns from the public. Most people are glad the project will finally start soon, he said.

When choosing a preferred alternative, DelDOT tries to balance the department’s needs and public’s desire. It’s not necessarily about price tag. DelDOT won’t select a project that the public hates just because it’s the cheapest option, Simmons said.

“We’re coming to a good point. We’ve been working with the public for a long time. … It’s going to be a huge improvement to the transportation network … and make positive changes to Georgetown,” Simmons said.

The public can also submit comments or concerns to DelDOT. Project details are online at https://deldot.gov/projects/index.shtml?dc=details&projectNumber=T201412701. The public can also call DelDOT at (302) 760-2371 or email dotpr@state.de.us.

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.