Orange construction barrels to be Delaware’s ‘new state flower’ with $1.4B for road projects

The federal highway funding coming to Delaware is about half of what the state spent on road projects in Gov. John Carney’s first term.

Construction workers rebuild an I-95 off ramp on the city of Wilmington as part of the massive 'Restore the Corridor' interstate project through the city. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Construction workers rebuild an I-95 off ramp on the city of Wilmington as part of the massive 'Restore the Corridor' interstate project through the city. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

As thousands of travelers hit the highways to visit friends and family this Thanksgiving, most road construction has been suspended to make that drive as smooth as possible.

In Delaware, lane closures are suspended until the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 29. There still may be some lane shifts and restrictions in place, including through the Restore the Corridor work zone on I-95 through Wilmington.

The number of projects under construction on Delaware roads is expected to ramp up in the next few years, thanks to Congressional approval of the infrastructure bill earlier this month. The First State is expected to get $1.4 billion from the legislation.

“The orange barrel is going to be the new state flower — we’re going to make that happen,” said Delaware transportation secretary Nicole Majeski. “We have already invested over $2.5 billion dollars in capital projects in the first four years of [the Carney] administration, and there is much, much more to come.”

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Majeski joined U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg and members of the state’s congressional delegation earlier this week to celebrate the work that will be able to be done as a result of that federal funding.

“Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law that President Biden signed last week, we will be able to repair the transportation system Americans rely on today, and build a transportation system that empowers Americans to thrive for generations to come,” Trottenberg said.

Part of the money is aimed at addressing issues of inequality created by highway construction over the past decades.

“Planning is underway to fix some of the more damaging historical legacy of I-95 that residents of this city of Wilmington still live with,” she said. “The city and state and community are working on a vision to cap a section of I-95 highway to connect the communities that are currently divided by it.”

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The Wilmington Area Planning Council is currently studying the cost and feasibility of covering I-95 through part of the city. Lawmakers from the city, state, and federal delegations have all thrown their support behind the effort.

For the first time in American history, the highway bill includes a climate section, Trottenberg said.

“This bill is going to fund a nationwide network of electric charging vehicles along our highways, including here in Delaware,” she said. “It will have the first ever U.S. Department of Transportation administered program to make our existing infrastructure more resilient and to protect the lives and livelihoods from the effects of climate change.”

Nearly $20 million will help expand Delaware’s electric vehicle charging network. Gov. John Carney called that effort the package’s most important project.

“These funds will enable us to supercharge the electrification of our transit and automobile transportation system here in the State of Delaware,” Carney said.

“We’re going to be celebrating this in our state for a long time,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper. He said in addition to providing much needed repairs and investment in new projects, the new funding will provide jobs for thousands of workers.

“This is the largest investment in all of those things that we’ve ever made in our country. It’ll put a lot of people to work in good paying jobs. The other thing they’ll do is just make our economy stronger, more competitive,” he said.

Carper said he met with Biden shortly after he was elected last November to set up their plan of attack for getting an infrastructure bill approved. After multiple declarations of “infrastructure week” under the Trump administration, Carper said nothing ever got done. With Biden’s signature on the bill earlier this month, that’s now changed, he said.

“This year, we’re not just going to have an infrastructure week, we’re going to have an infrastructure decade, and not just talk about it, but actually make it happen.”

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