Drivers through Wilmington have been squished down to one lane in some parts since February when work on the massive “Restore the Corridor” project started.
That work to overhaul four miles of the interstate surface and repair 19 bridges started last fall. In February, northbound traffic was diverted onto the southbound side of the highway. Since then, drivers in both directions have squeezed through narrow lanes divided by concrete barriers.
“I know it may feel like we’ve just gotten used to this traffic pattern that we’ve been in since late February, and now we’re we’re going to switch things up once again,” said DelDOT’s C.R. McLeod. “That means that we’re making progress. Thankfully, weather has been on our side and we continue to see this project move along very quickly, which is what we all want.”
That progress hasn’t been without headaches though.
“Crashes increased approximately 30% between March and May compared to pre-pandemic years when the ‘phase one’ traffic pattern was implemented,” said design consultant Neil Leary, of Baltimore-based Whitman, Requardt & Associates. “However, the frequency has steadily reduced as motorists have adjusted to the ‘phase one’ traffic pattern, even as traffic volumes have continued to increase.”
He said most of those crashes were the result of speeding through the work zone.
As workers shift traffic from sharing the southbound lanes to the newly repaved northbound section for phase two, there’s some concern for another uptick in crashes.
“There is a potential for an increase in crashes as motorists adjust to the new traffic patterns, so we will be continuing to monitor and mitigate as necessary,” Leary said.
Drivers should enjoy a much smoother ride on the newly repaved northbound lanes. “A fresh road surface is definitely going to be noticeable for folks as you travel on the new lanes that have been completed,” McLeod said. “So that’s a big plus, obviously for comfortability and obviously, wear and tear on our cars.”
He said drivers will also notice new lighting designed to improve visibility.
The changeover in phases will require the entire highway to be shut down so the active lanes can be moved from the southbound side of the highway to the northbound side. That’s expected to be completed this weekend, if the weather cooperates.
“The weather predictions can be unpredictable,” said Mark Buckalew, DelDOT’s chief of construction and materials. “We’re shooting for Friday night [12/10], but that may push to Saturday night [12/11], or Sunday night [12/12].”
Before the changeover is completed, hopefully by Monday morning, December 13, all traffic will be diverted onto I-495, east of the city of Wilmington.
The completion of phase one also means the reopening of the heavily traveled Delaware Avenue exit on the north side of the city.
“Delaware Avenue is our busiest exit into the city of Wilmington, and obviously that’s really a key access point for a lot of our larger employers in the city and also, it’s a very convenient exit for our residents,” McLeod said. “We know it’s been a long eight months having that exit closed.”
Phase two is expected to be finished by February 2023.
“We’re halfway home,” McLeod said. “The project is on schedule and we are very, very happy about that. Fingers crossed we won’t have too intense of a winter that will cause any significant disruption.”
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