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DelDOT plans around the Cooch’s Bridge historic site draw scrutiny

Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media

Making changes along Old Baltimore Pike and Old Coochs Bridge Road is complicated.

The existing lanes and shoulders are smaller than standard, there are inadequate sight distances, only passenger vehicles can make turns without entering the opposite lane, and the area’s three bridges don’t meet safety standards.

“The barriers being right up on the road to the traveling public. The barriers aren’t up to standards either. And the barriers that are on the bridge itself are not reinforced concrete. So all of that combined with the traffic we have in this area brought this project on,” said DelDOT Project Manager Santiago Rodriguez.

A 2021 study found that Old Baltimore Pike saw over 15,000 vehicles on average each day, and Old Cooch’s Bridge Road saw over 8,000.

And that’s expected to increase in the coming years.

DelDOT is offering five alternatives to the roadways to address congestion and safety.

Three would create traditional T intersections, two would create roundabouts.

A majority of the options would involve shifting a portion of Old Cooch’s Bridge Road 150 feet west.

“So the idea is you would align it with the entrance of the property itself, making more of a traditional intersection,” said DelDOT’s C.R. McLeod, referring to the Cooch’s Bridge Historic Site.

He adds it will also create better sightlines prior to crossing the bridge.

The T-intersection options would add a turning lane to allow someone to turn left onto Old Cooch’s Bridge Road from Old Baltimore Pike safely.

Delaware Department of Transportation

All of the options would involve widening the intersection, though the roundabout would have the biggest footprint.

But Rodriguez says it has several safety benefits.

“It's been shown to reduce crashes, especially fatal crashes in the area. It reduces conflict points where cars can crash into each other. It also works as a traffic calming device where cars will slow down to traverse the roundabout itself,” he explained.

The project is already raising concerns about the impact on Cooch’s Bridge Historic Site - drawing around 300 people to an initial public workshop this week.

Sarah O’Donnell of the Cooch’s Bridge chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution believes the roundabout option would be destructive to the site.

“I think we need to expand our thinking to find a plan that meets both sides and doesn’t just close out and say ‘well too bad to the historic district’ which is what it looks like right now. It’s not very friendly to those of us who want to see history preserved,” she said.

She does not agree with any alternatives presented, which DelDOT welcomes.

Residents who attended the February 6th workshop were asked to review the options presented and share their responses in a survey.

DelDOT officials emphasize there are currently no solid plans, and public response will help determine what direction they ultimately take.

If none of the options get a positive response, DelDOT will go back to the drawing boards.

Richard Cooch’s family has been involved in the site's historic preservation for decades. He says in any plan, there needs to be a balance between historic preservation and traffic and safety concerns.

“The intersection at Cooch’s Bridge has remained unchanged for centuries,” he said. “It was the apex of the state’s only Revolutionary War land battle in 1777. So granted traffic is an issue, but it’s also the state’s only battlefield. And there’s a lot of talk about turning Cooch’s Bridge into a heritage tourism destination by about 2027.”

DelDOT’s C.R. McLeod says they’re taking that into consideration in their planning.

“We’re looking at how we can both help meet the needs of the historic site and the things that they're looking to do to grow its visibility. There's plans for a visitor center down across from the mill, as well,” said McLeod.

He says the challenge lies in addressing safety needs, choosing the path with the least impact on the historic site, and supporting future growth.

If the survey responses show there was a preferred option of those presented, the earliest residents would see a final design for the area is 2027.

The chosen plan must undergo rigorous environmental and historical review.

And Vince Watchorn, president of Friends of Cooch’s Bridge Historic Site, says because the project involves federal highway dollars, they’ll be required to work with DelDOT moving forward.

“We’re hoping that the process is collaborative and open and serves the federal code statute requirements at the highest level of integrity,” he said.

More information on the project can be found online in the DelDOT Projects Portal.

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.