DelDOT preps drivers for massive overhaul of I-95 through Wilmington

A four mile stretch of I-95, seen here looking south through the city of Wilmington, will be under construction for the next two years. DelDOT is warning drivers to be ready for delays. (DelDOT photo)

A four mile stretch of I-95, seen here looking south through the city of Wilmington, will be under construction for the next two years. DelDOT is warning drivers to be ready for delays. (DelDOT photo)

A four-mile section of I-95 through the city of Wilmington will be under construction for the next two years. Nineteen bridges will be overhauled and miles of road surface repaved, while on and off ramps will be fixed up or completely replaced.

As the project gets underway, northbound and southbound drivers will be forced to share the southbound lanes, with just one lane open in each direction. The first phase of the project will see all northbound lanes closed at the 95/495 split north of Route 141. Drivers in both directions will share the southbound side of the highway until after the Brandywine River Bridge near Route 202.

This prominent artery along the Northeast Corridor carries about 100,000 vehicles on a typical day. Even though the pandemic has lowered traffic numbers as more people work from home, shunting all that traffic into one lane each way is going to cause big-time headaches for drivers.

Delaware Department of Transportation officials tried to alleviate concerns for commuters this week with the latest in a series of public forums held online. They’ve also posted an in-depth look at the project with maps and a timeline of lane closures at RestoreTheCorridor.com.

“Our goal is when we’re done to have at least 30 years of good service life. What that means is we’re not going to have to come back and disrupt traffic or disrupt your lives for a very long time,” said project manager Bill Geschrei of Whitman, Requardt and Associates. “This is the biggest project that Delaware has undertaken in several years.”

The work will affect residents in Wilmington and the thousands of workers that commute to and from the city. “There will be congestion. Taking a lane off I-95, obviously there will be some impacts,” said WRA’s Neil Leary. “What will be the exact amount of additional travel time? That’s obviously very hard to project.”

Delays will be affected by the time of day, weather conditions and the amount of traffic volume.

To help mitigate the delays the work will cause, DelDOT is hoping to get 25% to 30% of travelers to take an alternate route around Wilmington via the simplest alternative on I-495. If that happens, Leary said, the added travel time could be as low as about 20 minutes.

During the morning rush hour, the pandemic has reduced traffic in that 25% to 30% range as lots of workers are telecommuting and working at home. The evening rush is down too, but not as much. The PM peak traffic is about 18% to 20% of normal traffic.

“The Department [of Transportation] isn’t relying on that,” Leary said. “The department has been working steadfast to really come up with ways to mitigate the impacts that are going to occur.”

Because I-95 is a major route into and out of Wilmington, DelDOT has pledged to keep at least one ramp in each direction open throughout the project. Inside the city, DelDOT has taken control over more than 200 traffic cameras that can now be controlled from its Traffic Management Center in Smyrna.

“In the past, if the city wanted to modify traffic signal timings, they actually had to go to the physical intersection, get into the cabinet and make the change,” Leary said. “That is not the case now. DelDOT actually can, remotely from the TMC, change signal timing in real time based on the traffic conditions that are occurring. This is a game changer for how traffic is going to be able to get around within the city of Wilmington.”

Crews have installed Bluetooth technology along roadways in the city to monitor the flow of traffic. DelDOT is also getting and sharing information with traffic apps Waze and Google to keep an eye as cars could stack up.

In addition to Thursday night’s public presentation, project planners have also been holding meetings with emergency responders to map out the best way police, ambulance and fire crews can navigate through the construction and respond to incidents that may happen in the work zone.

DelDOT is on pace to start phase one of the project in late February. The work is scheduled to run until 2023. When it’s all done, there won’t be any additional capacity or added lanes. The work is just to repair and extend the life of the existing structure.

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