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With the corridor restored, DelDOT eyes 896 work

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Restore the Corridor Chris Doons Delaware Department of Transportation DelDOT

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons addresses the crowd on April 6 during the celebration of the completion of the “Restore the Corridor” project in Wilmington. | DBT PHOTO BY ROGER MORRIS

WILMINGTON – The symbolism could not have been more obvious.

When the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) held its press conference April 6, announcing completion on budget and ahead of time of the two-year, $200-million restoration of a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 95 through Wilmington, the agency decided to stage it in a parking lot directly underneath the six-lane freeway at the MLK Boulevard interchange where traffic overhead flowed loudly and freely with no blocked lanes and no delays.

“This press conference may be four months late, but the completion was four months early,” and on budget, Gov. John Carney said.

Indeed, the massive project known as “Restore the Corridor” was praised throughout the gathering for the successful partnership between the state agency and Kiewit, the primary contractor, in completely redoing the infrastructure of the largely elevated interstate that had not been updated since it was first constructed in 1968. 

The project saw the southbound and northbound lanes share highway stretches for months at a time as each viaduct was worked on. Ultimately, its long-planned launch in 2021 timed well for the reduced traffic seen in the wake of the COVID pandemic, reducing potential congestion and accidents.

Although intended as a refurbishing-only project, a lane was added going north between downtown Wilmington and Concord Pike. The project used community input and constant communications from DelDOT to minimally disrupt interstate and local traffic and warn residents of unavoidable nighttime noise.

And while the Restore the Corridor project is officially completed, there remain “punch list” items to finish, mainly those involving beautification projects through the heart of the city.

But – spoiler alert – more I-95 work is on the way. Officials at the meeting briefly referenced a new and massive project to be announced shortly, a complete redesign and reworking of the interchange between I-95 and Route 896. According to DelDOT Director of Community Relations C.R. McLeod, the project will cost $284 million, last into 2026 and feature two overhead “flyways” similar to those at the Route 1 interchange.

The prevailing mood of the conference, however, was festive, self-congratulatory and good-humored, a reminder to everyone that Delaware is a small, friendly and somewhat informal state. There was no dais behind Carney at the podium, just a row of folding chairs in front of a chain-link fence. Seated there and awaiting their turns were Delaware’s Congressional delegation – Sen. Tom Carper, Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester – along with construction and union representatives.

Before introducing the governor, an ebullient Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski first recognized dozens of the department’s employees responsible for a job well-executed. And while Majeski was still into her remarks, Wilmington Mayor Mike Pursycki walked in, briefly leaned into the mike and explained his tardiness: “I got lost in my own city.”

Carney tweaked Majeski for his having to unexpectedly exit where he was now speaking instead of at Concord Avenue on his way home early in the project. Carper similarly related that he had been made late a time or two on his way to the train station en route to attend Congress. But it was Blunt Rochester who got the most chuckles when she strode to the podium waving her smartphone, saying, “I never got lost because I downloaded the DelDOT app.”

Carper reminded everyone that the funding was “99% federal” and told how he had received a call from President Biden saying, “Tommy, come over to the White House” for talks resulting in the massive federal infrastructure legislation. Coons, who followed Carper, noted that “he authorizes, and I appropriate.”

In fact, the only Delaware dignitary not attending was the President. But a local motorist, perhaps noticing the scene in the parking lot as he entered onto I-95 south from MLK, rolled down his window and yelled three times in succession, “Elect Joe Biden, elect Joe Biden, elect Joe Biden,” as he sped away on the newly surfaced highway.

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