Work crews are moving forward on a pair of construction projects that have been years in the making, but drivers could see more delays before the interchange reconstruction at Rt. 1 and Rt. 202 are done.
Drivers on I-95 are hitting road construction on both the north and south sides of Wilmington, but delays now should mean less traffic delays in the near future.
The more involved project is the reconstruction of the I-95 interchange with Rt. 1, a notorious bottle neck. In the summer, traffic typically backs up on Rt. 1 north from the interchange south to Rt. 40 on Sunday afternoons, as beach goers return home; and southbound I-95 backs up just about every evening rush hour as drivers negotiate a hairpin turn onto Rt. 1 south.
Those delays should be a thing of the past with the new ramps connecting Rt. 1 to 95. DelDOT resident engineer Mark Buckalew is in charge of the project, and its complexity has been a challenge. “It’s absolutely the most difficult job I’ve ever worked on.” He says the difficult work will have a big payoff, “This project will make an immediate impact and commuters will know that their tax dollars were well spent.”
I-95 to completely close
However, before the smooth sailing, drivers will face delays especially starting this weekend as all southbound lanes of 95 at Rt. 1 will close to allow bridge beams to be installed over the highway. “We can’t have cars running under the beams so we have to close it,” Buckalew said.
All south lanes will be closed Friday and Saturday nights (2/15-2/16) from 10 p.m. until 10 a.m. Three lanes will be closed on the north side during the same time. Then, next weekend, Friday and Saturday February 22-23 all northbound lanes will be closed, and three southbound lanes will be shut down. Drivers are urged to use Rt. 13 as an alternate. You can find a full schedule of planned lane closures, which could change depending on weather, on DelDOT’s website.
Meanwhile, just a few miles north on 95, the Rt. 202 interchange is also getting a much needed overhaul. “The interchange was built in the early 60’s, a lot of stuff has changed over the past 50 years,” says Mark Tudor, who is in charge of the 202 project.
He says the work has been in the planning process for a long time, and DelDOT finally got the funds to do the work. “This project has been talked about for many, many years.” Tudor says, “The project came from the recognition that this ramp needs to be addressed to address congestion and especially safety. It’s an interchange that has a lot of safety issues.”
The 202 project presents different challenges than the Rt. 1 project, Tudor says. “Especially one of the things that makes this project challenging is the amount of rock that’s up here. A lot of really hard rock, they call it Delaware blue granite. And so anything we do, whether it’s lowering 95 or even doing a lot of our ramp construction, we’ve had to do a lot of blasting.”
In addition to rebuilding the ramps from 95 to 202, some lanes of 95 will be lowered to improve safety. “In the past, there has been trucks that were not supposed to be there, but if they were there, they would strike the bridge. So as part of the project, we are lowering 95 to get a better clearance if trucks are there to get under the bridge.”
All that will take time. The 202 work isn’t projected to be done until December 2014, while the Rt. 1 interchange is on track to be done by the end of this year. So far, the weather has been cooperating with both timelines. “Last year we had a very good winter, this year the same,” says Buckalew. “We expect to see a little more snow this year, than we did last year, but we’re able to get some progress still pushing forward.”
When completed, the projects will mark the culmination of a major overhaul of I-95 and Rt. 202 that’s been under construction in one spot or another since the 1990’s. “Ultimately, the public will see when these improvements are done, it will be alot better for them to travel, especially during the peak hours, and of course a lot safer,” says Tudor.
While complex and difficult work, the payoff for the men in charge of both projects will be reduced traffic and fewer headaches for Delaware drivers. Buckalew says, “That way they can get to work quicker and get to vacation quicker without sitting in traffic and wasting their time, their valuable time.”