What if Delmarva was a state?

This page is broken up into several segments:

What is Delmarva?

The Delmarva peninsula is a region of the United States that lies between the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay/Atlantic Ocean (with Cape Henlopen in Lewes as the breakpoint). It contains parts of three states: most or all of Delaware (depending on your definition of the northern boundary), Maryland's Eastern Shore, and Virginia's Eastern Shore. Given the geographic similarities shared with counties across Delmarva and the historic isolation of Maryland's and Virginia's Eastern Shores from the rest of their respective states, the idea of merging the Maryland and Virginia portions of Delmarva into Delaware has been discussed and voted on a few times, as recently as 1998.

Before I continue, I just want to mention that I consider this to be nothing more than a hypothetical. I am not seriously advocating for the secession of the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia to occur. I just thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if it did happen. Also, if this did happen, it would likely be an extension of Delaware, which I would assume would just remain "Delaware." However, I use the term "State of Delmarva" to avoid any confusion with present-day Delaware.

What would the State of Delmarva be?

Delmarva's southern boundary is clearly at Cape Charles in Virginia, at the northern terminus of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. However, the northern boundary is a bit more arbitrary. It should theoretically be the end of the Susquehanna River, which is approximately at the same latitude as the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. However, because the C&D Canal cuts through both Cecil County MD and New Castle County DE, these counties would be split by the creation of a State of Delmarva, if the TRUE definition of Delmarva is used.

To make data collection more straightforward (and it's unclear what would happen to central and northern New Castle County DE if this were to happen), the entirety of Cecil County MD and New Castle County DE will be considered part of the Delmarva state. These are in addtion to the remaining counties in Delaware (Kent and Sussex), the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland (Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset, Worcester), and the Eastern Shore counties of Virginia (Accomac and Northampton). Kent Island is included. Because it shares a name with Kent County DE, Kent County MD would be renamed to Chester County (after the Chester River and Chestertown). No municipalities would need to be renamed.

To perform this calculation, comparisons will be performed to see where Delmarva would rank in the US as its own state. These rankings will account for adjustments in the loss of these counties from Maryland and Virginia.

Delmarva Geographic and Economic Statistics

Using 2018 data, Delmarva would become the 12th least populous state in the country, at 1.45 million people. Hawaii (1.42 million) and New Hampshire (1.34 million) are smaller and Idaho (1.69 million) and West Virginia (1.83 million) are larger. Almost 25% of the population would be over age 60 (compared to 21.4% for the whole country). Counties with at least 1/3 of their population being over age 60 are Talbot, Worcester, Sussex, and Northampton. The four counties with the lowest over age 60 population are New Castle, Wicomico, Caroline, and Cecil. New Castle County is the only county with a lower proportion of over age 60 population than the country as a whole.

At 7,541 square miles, Delmarva would be third smallest state, with Connecticut becoming the second smallest state (5,543 square miles). Maryland would drop to the 4th smallest state (8,015 square miles) from 9th smallest, with New Jersey being bumped to 5th smallest (8,723 square miles).

Again using 2018 data, Delmarva would have a GDP per capita of $59,323, just over $3,000 lower than the United States average of $62,794 at the time. The Delaware counties (New Castle, Sussex, and Kent) lead the way with the largest economies, followed by Wicomico and Cecil Counties. The counties with the smallest GDP include Northampton, Chester, and Somerset (all under $1 million).

Delmarva's largest fields of employment based on people who live there (i.e. not necessarily jobs within Delmarva), as of 2018, would be education/healthcare/social services (24.5% of workers), retail (12.0%), arts/entertainment/tourism/food (9.7%), and professional/scientific/management (9.6%). For the country as a whole, the largest groups are education/healthcare/social services (23.1%), professional/scientific/management (11.4%), retail (11.3%), and arts/entertainment/tourism/food (9.7%). In other words, Delmarva's employment structure would be similar to that of the entire United States, though with a larger emphasis on retail and a smaller emphasis on professional and scientific work.

County Statistics

County Seat Population % Population Population Over 60 % Over 60 Land Area (sq mi) Total GDP
GDP per capita
Kent (DE) Dover 174,822 12.08% 38,069 21.8% 798 $6,700,040 $38,325
New Castle Wilmington 555,133 38.35% 115,169 20.7% 494 $42,517,640 $76,590
Sussex Georgetown 219,540 15.17% 75,517 34.4% 1,196 $13,568,583 $61,805
Caroline Denton 32,875 2.27% 7,113 21.6% 326 $1,210,266 $36,814
Cecil Elkton 102,517 7.08% 22,151 21.6% 418 $4,242,723 $41,386
Chester (Kent MD) Chestertown 19,593 1.35% 6,423 32.8% 414 $831,822 $42,455
Dorchester Cambridge 32,261 2.23% 8,977 27.8% 540 $1,288,622 $39,943
Queen Anne's Centreville 49355 3.41% 12,309 24.9% 510 $1,668,547 $33,807
Somerset Princess Anne 25,737 1.78% 5,807 22.6% 611 $918,716 $35,696
Talbot Easton 37,211 2.57% 13,254 35.6% 477 $1,983,724 $53,310
Wicomico Salisbury 102,172 7.06% 21,881 21.4% 400 $4,915,684 $48,112
Worcester Snow Hill 51,564 3.56% 18,092 35.1% 695 $2,761,060 $53,546
Accomack Accomac 32,742 2.26% 9,824 30.0% 455 $2,794,309 $85,343
Northampton Eastville 11,957 0.83% 4052 33.9% 207 $467,069 $39,062
Total 1,447,479 358,638 24.8% 7,541 $85,868,805 $59,323

Largest Municipalities on Delmarva

City
County
Population (2018)
Wilmington New Castle 70,635
Dover Kent 38,079
Newark New Castle 33,673
Salisbury Wicomico
32,809
Middletown New Castle 22,582
Easton Talbot 16,494
Cambridge Dorchester
12,285

The geographic center is between Federalsburg and Seaford. The center of population would be between Sandtown and Petersburg. Interestingly, this is also an area that's approximately equidistant (driving-wise) from Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington. This was based on 2019 TIGER/LINE shapefiles and 2010 population data from the US Census Bureau for all census blocks in the Delmarva region. The QGIS processing tool "Mean Coordinates" was used to find the points.

Data sources for this section include the US Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates and US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2018 Local Area Gross Domestic Product. 2018 municipality populations and county land areas were pulled from Wikipedia.

The Politics of Delmarva

February 2020 voter registration data from Delaware and Maryland was very interesting to explore, as even though Delaware is a solidly blue state, I thought that the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia would be so conservative that they would eventually make Delmarva into a swing state. I couldn't have been more wrong. All of Delaware's counties alone have 339,612 registered Democrats, whereas all the counties in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland combined only have 297,904 Republicans. In the end, the Delaware and Maryland counties combined would have 450,986 (44%) registered Democrats, 297,904 (29%) registered Republicans, 252,327 (25%) unaffiliated voters, and 19,023 (2%) voters registered with other parties.

For the sake of argument, assigning 75% of unaffiliated and third-party voters to the dominant party of their county and assigning the remaining 25% to the weaker party would mean that 58% of Delmarva voters lean Democratic. This, again, bolsters the argument that Delmarva would be a blue state.

Voter registration data broken down by party is not readily available from the Commonwealth of Virginia, so it is not included. Even so, if every person (including children) was registered to vote as a Republican in the Eastern Shore of Virginia, that would only make 342,051 (32%) of Delmarva voters registered Republicans. This would still leave 42% of the population as registered Democrats, further indicating that Delmarva would be a blue state.

Regarding Congressional representation, it is not entirely clear what would happen, though the State of Delmarva would likely have two representatives (as New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Idaho - states with similar populations - each have two respresentatives). Delaware is one of the few states that only has one Congressional district and Maryland's Eastern Shore shares a Congressional district (Maryland District 1) with Harford County and parts of Baltimore and Carroll Counties. With the redistricting that the State of Delmarva requires, I would assume that Maryland District 1 and Delaware's district would ultimately be the basis of Congressional representation for the area. This would, obviously, require the redistricting of Maryland, or at least the parts north of Baltimore, and would include Virginia's Eastern Shore in place of the counties north of Baltimore.

The reason why the Virginia counties' current Congressional representation was not mentioned is because fewer than 50,000 people live in that area, meaning they share District 2 with Virginia Beach (a city of well over 400,000 people) and areas to its northwest. If anything, this setup would be more favorable to the Eastern Shore counties of Virginia.

Supplemental Information: Presidential Election Results from 2008 to 2016

To further confirm that Delmarva would be a blue state, I reviewed presidential election results from 2008, 2012, and 2016. To simplify calculations and provide a meaningful comparison between elections, only votes for the Democratic and Republican candidates were counted.

In 2008, Obama would have won the Delmarva counties with 56.2% of the vote. In 2012, Obama would have won again with 53.9% of the vote. In 2016, Clinton would have won, though very narrowly, with 50.2% of the vote. Despite this relatively narrow victory, Clinton still came out on top, which further indicates to me that Delmarva would be a blue state. Of note in 2016 is that Trump won Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, all states that voted for Obama twice, but Clinton still would have won the Delmarva counties in that election.

What if New Castle County was removed?

If the urbanized, strongly Democratic New Castle County was not part of the State of Delmarva, then the conservatism of the remaining counties of the peninsula really stand out. In this situation, there would be 229,696 (38%) registered Democrats, 236,292 (39%) registered Republicans, 129,202 (21%) unaffiliated voters, and 10,386 (2%) voters registered with other parties. Applying the 75%/25% adjustment described two paragraphs earlier, 292,333 (48%) voters would effectively be Democrats and 313,235 (52%) voters would effectively be Republicans. While this would really make Delmarva into a "purple state," given how close the registrations are, there is a slight preference shown for Republicans.

The Capital of Delmarva

Presently, the only city on Delmarva that is a state capital is Dover, which is located about 50 miles from the top of Delmarva at Yorklyn and 150 miles from the bottom at Cape Charles. Given that this is not a very central location and because much of Delmarva's infrastructure is based in Salisbury (with the airport, television stations, and the intersection of two perpendicular major national routes), I would recommend that the capital of Delmarva should be Salisbury. This would also provide an advantage to state employees of Delmarva who may need to travel across the peninsula, shortening their trips significantly.

However, despite Salisbury's geographically central location on the peninsula and its amenities, it might be more appropriate to keep the capital in Dover. After all, Dover was the first "official" capital city in the country. Dover also has all the infrastructure of a capital city, from Legislative Hall to numerous state offices from DelDOT to Archives to DNREC.

Regarding Salisbury, it seems to be a reasonably successful city as it is. Dover also has its successes, but those might be substantially diminished if it loses its status as the capital of Delaware. Dover's location is also more convenient to the average resident of Delmarva, as it lies reasonably close to the population center of the peninsula. A compromise could be reached that causes some state offices to have major secondary locations in Salisbury, to provide more access to the population on southern Delmarva.

Distances of Select Delmarva Locations from Dover and Salisbury

Location Miles from Dover Time from Dover Miles from Salisbury Time from Salisbury
Conowingo Dam 78 1:24 133 2:27
Perryville 60 1:09 127 2:18
Newark 49 0:54 106 2:01
Wilmington 52 0:54 108 2:00
Yorklyn 54 1:03 110 2:08
Roth Bridge 35 0:39 91 1:45
Middletown 29 0:32 85 1:38
Chestertown 34 0:47 83 1:37
Dover N/A N/A 57 1:14
Bay Bridge 60 1:12 84 1:35
Denton 29 0:39 46 1:00
Milford 21 0:26 44 0:57
Easton 47 1:03 47 0:55
Georgetown 36 0:41 28 0:38
Lewes 41 0:44 43 1:01
Cambridge 61 1:18 32 0:37
Laurel 43 0:55 15 0:23
Bethany Beach 56 1:04 37 0:54
Salisbury 57 1:11 N/A N/A
Ocean City 72 1:23 30 0:40
Assateague 76 1:31 32 0:40
Snow Hill 80 1:29 18 0:24
Chincoteague 107 2:05 47 0:57
Accomac 114 2:10 54 1:01
Exmore 130 2:29 70 1:19
Cape Charles 153 2:53 93 1:43
Bay Bridge-Tunnel 163 3:03 103 1:53

News Media on Delmarva

Television Markets

The Delmarva peninsula is a mixed bag in terms of media markets. The upper- and mid-shore counties of Maryland (Cecil, Caroline, Dorchester, Kent (Chester), Queen Anne's, and Talbot) are part of the Baltimore television market, the upper two counties of Delaware (New Castle and Kent) are part of the Philadelphia market, and the remaining Maryland and Delaware counties (Somerset, Sussex, Wicomico, and Worcester) are part of the Salisbury market. Joining the fun, the Virginia counties (Accomack and Northampton) are part of the Norfolk/Hampton Roads market.

That said, as a resident of Dover (in Kent County DE), I've found that the Salisbury stations provide decent coverage of the peninsula, as it's defined now, ranging from Dover to at least Accomack County VA. However, that leaves New Castle and Cecil Counties in northern Delmarva and Northampton County on the Eastern Shore of Virginia somewhat in the dark on what's happening in their areas. Having lived in Newark, I've felt that the area really does feel more like it belongs in suburban (or really exurban) Philadelphia. Cecil County feels like somewhat of an odd mix of exurban Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.

NPR Stations

There are at least four NPR member stations serving the Delmarva peninsula: WHYY in Philadelphia (serving New Castle County), Your Public Radio in Baltimore (serving the upper shore Maryland counties), Delaware Public Media in Dover (serving Kent and Sussex Counties), and Delmarva Public Radio in Salisbury (serving the remaining area). It's not entirely clear if it's worth consolidating the Dover and Salisbury stations, but it's just something to point out. Note here that Baltimore and Philadelphia maintain some influence on the northern portions of Delmarva.

Newspapers

There are presently at least four daily newspapers serving Delmarva: The News Journal in Wilmington (serving the upper half of Delaware), the Delaware State News in Dover (serving the lower half of Delaware), the Star-Democrat in Easton (serving the upper- and mid-shore counties of Maryland), and the Daily Times in Salisbury (serving the lower-shore counties of Maryland and the Virginia counties). Given the differences in ideology throughout the region, it is probably best to maintain the newspaper markets that exist today.

The Delmarva Road Network

Being a member of the road enthusiast community, it is natural that I would have a proposal for the road network on the Delmarva peninsula. This proposal includes a new route marker, a comprehensive renumbering of the state routes across the peninsula, and a full freeway extension of the existing DE-1 corridor to Milford, linking to the Salisbury Bypass.

New Route Marker

A new state route marker was developed. Presently, Virginia uses its rounded shield, Maryland has its rectange with a line between "MARYLAND" and the number, and Delaware has the generic circle/oval shield. I propose doing away with those and using a new shield (shown above). This route shield features a horseshoe crab in the middleground (chosen because the horseshoe crab is the state marine animal of Delaware and Delmarva is a very water-dominated area), with the text "DELMARVA" at the top, against a white background.

New State Route Numbers

My proposed state route numbering for the State of Delmarva can be seen using current route numbers as the base or the new route numbers as the base. Explanation of the process used to determine these numbers can be seen below.

As a few roads in the region share a number (e.g. DE-1 and US-1, DE-7 and MD-7, DE-12 and MD-12), some roads change their number at the state line (e.g DE-6 and MD-291, MD-12 and VA-675), and some roads are just weirdly arranged (e.g. DE-279 and DE-4 both ending at the same intersection with DE-896), a completely new numbering scheme was developed.

The means of determining the route numbers was fairly straightforward. Primary east-west routes are assigned even numbers in order from north to south (DE-2 around Rising Sun, Newark, and Wilmington to DE-58 around Cape Charles) and significant primary north-south routes are assigned the number 1 (present day DE-1 and MD-528) or a one to two digit number ending with 5 (DE-5, DE-15, DE-25, and DE-35). Other primary north-south routes are assigned odd numbers, from north to south (DE-3 around Elk Neck to DE-39 around Kiptopeke).

Secondary routes are assigned three digit numbers corresponding to a parent route. The last two digits represent the parent route, while the first digit was assigned sequentially as I moved down the map.

Generally speaking, US routes and Interstates are unaffected. The only exceptions are US-202, which runs along present day DE-141 instead of multiplexing with I-95 and DE-141, ending in New Castle, and US-222, which is extended down present day MD-222.

Likewise, no number shall be repeated in the peninsula, with one exception. Because "1" is a coveted route number, especially in Delaware, present day DE-1 will keep its number. However, this comes at a small expense. US-1 runs for 10 miles in the extreme northwestern corner of Delmarva from the Conowingo Dam over the Susquehanna River to the Kennett-Oxford Bypass in Pennsylvania. Given the special case of DE-1, this number will be repeated, as the roads clearly do not relate to each other.

The Grand Delmarva Express

The Grand Delmarva Express is my proposal for a full freeway between Christiana Mall in northern Delaware and Fruitland, just south of Salisbury, via Dover, Milford, and Laurel. This road is designed to maximize use of the existing DE-1 corridor and Salisbury Bypass to reduce the cost of building this road. The name comes from the Grand Paris Express, a public transportation project being constructed in France, which was part of one of the papers I wrote in grad school.

The Grand Delmarva Express proposal, on a map, can be viewed here. A proposed exit list for this highway can be viewed here.

First things first, the road needs a number. I propose using Interstate 195 for the entire length, as this would provide a new interstate link approximately 100 miles down the peninsula. This might be controversial if tolls are imposed for the length of the highway, or even if the existing tolls remained (between Dover and the C&D Canal).

At 112 miles, this would be the nation's third longest auxiliary interstate highway, being beaten by Boston's I-495 (122 miles) and Pennsylvania's I-476 (130 miles). The routing was developed against the DNREC 2017 aerial of Delaware and attempts to avoid home and business structures. However, agricultural lands and part of the existing Redden State Forest suffer.

The advantage of this road is that it would shave about 15 minutes off a trip between present day DE-1 Exit 95 (at the Dover Air Force Base north gate) and the eastern US-13/US-50 interchange on the Salisbury Bypass. Currently, according to Google Maps, this is a 61 mile trip that takes 68 minutes, using DE-1, US-113, US-9, and US-13 (average speed of 53.8 MPH). Using the proposed Grand Delmarva Express, this would be a 60 mile trip that takes 51 minutes (at an average speed of 70 MPH).

The other advantage of this road is that it provides a better through route for traffic to the beaches, Salisbury, and even distance traffic heading down to the Norfolk area. It helps separate some of the local traffic from the tourist traffic, as well. This would be particularly helpful to traffic along US-13 between Dover and Salisbury and traffic along US-113 in Milford and Ellendale. That said, I have made no plans for present-day DE-1 south of Milford, as that's a whole other beast.

Of course, the main disadvantage of this road is that it creates a massive highway in a generally quiet and rural area. This is especially concerning given that Delaware seemingly is quickly selling off its farmland to developers. While much of the route of the proposed freeway runs through areas that are so rural they might not be attractive to developers in the first place, installing highways through these areas also isn't all that attractive. More concerning is that it runs very close to Redden State Forest, a large area of preserved land between Ellendale and Georgetown, and it also runs very close to Trap Pond State Park, the first state park established in Delaware (and one of the area's most unique parks).

Another major issue is the amount of private property that this road would run through. While care was taken to avoid any buildings, some people's backyards would be compromised by this road. With a very rural population being affected by this road, I cannot imagine they would appreciate having to give up their land to the state.

As I am not an engineer or transportation planner, by any means, this highway proposal only exists in fantasy and its construction seems extremely unlikely.