Could a coronavirus lockdown speed up major I-95 construction work?

Vehicles arrive at the Delaware toll plaza

File photo: Vehicles arrive at the Delaware toll plaza on I-95 in Newark, Del. (Pat Crowe II/AP)

It’s a popular sentiment on social media these days: “Now is the perfect time to do all the road construction, since nobody can go anywhere.”

But transportation officials say, while they empathize with that sentiment, it’s not that easy.

“As much as we would like to be able to advance some of that work, just in terms of the planning requirements and making sure we’ve got the funding in place, it’s not something we’re able to greatly advance,” said C.R. McLeod, DelDOT’s director of community relations.

The state has seen a major reduction in traffic, with up to 70% fewer cars on the state’s roads due to the coronavirus restrictions.

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Less traffic could lead to a quicker ending date for projects that are already in progress. One example is improvements being made to the interchange of I-95 and Rt. 141 south of Wilmington. Work in the area has been underway for two years and was on schedule to be finished by the end of the year. That deadline now could be met sooner.

“We’ve been able to waive work hour restrictions to allow our contractors to work more aggressively,” McLeod said. “Our contractors, our employees are able to go out and do work during daytime hours that normally might be restricted to nights and weekends because of traffic volumes and not wanting to impact traffic negatively.”

Work started this week on the first phase of a major overhaul of I-95 in and around the city of Wilmington. The project to replace the Second Street and Jackson Street on-ramps to southbound I-95 in Wilmington is the first in a long line of improvements planned for the interstate around the city. McLeod called it “the first shot across the bow” of the 95 work.

The major overhaul of I-95 will start next March and is expected to require lane closures for two years through Wilmington. The two-year project will cause major disruptions for the 100,000 vehicles that pass through the city every day.

And unfortunately, it’s not a project that can begin earlier to take advantage of the decline in traffic.

“We can’t just magically move it up unfortunately, as much as we would like to advance some of that work,” McLeod said.

While fewer cars should mean fewer accidents involving work crews, McLeod said those who are driving should still follow the speed limit and be aware of workers.

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“We have a lot of men and women working on our roads on a daily basis,” he said.

This upcoming Monday is the start of National Work Zone Awareness Week, a time when DelDOT tries to inform Delawareans about the dangers workers face.

“We’re seeing reduced traffic numbers, that does assist in the safety of our workers who are out mowing grass [and] fixing potholes,” McLeod said.

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