Officials warn businesses of next year’s I-95 project impact
WILMINGTON — As the $200 million Interstate 95 reconstruction project looms large and advance work continues to be done, state officials are preparing business leaders about what to expect on morning and evening commutes for the next two years.
Tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 12, Wilmington commuters can expect to see 5 miles of temporary concrete barriers and traffic reduced by one lane. Come March 1, Kiewit Infrastructure Company, of Nebraska, and its subcontractors will start work on what Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan called “the mother of all projects.”
“This is a very large undertaking, but one that’s been very necessary for a long time. We know that this project is going to impact the business community,” Cohan told state business leaders in a Sept. 29 webinar. “The key to success in our past projects is constant communication with those who are impacted … we want to make sure you have enough prep time for your employees.”
The rehabilitation project covers 19 bridges and 3 miles of pavement between the I-495 / I-95 split and U.S. Route 202. Construction also includes a new on-ramp from Second Street to southbound I-95 and a fourth lane on the northbound Brandywine River Bridge for a safer merge.
With northbound lanes closed for construction and moving two-way traffic to the southbound side — and vice-versa once work is done on the northbound side — it’s predicted there will be traffic snarls for the project’s duration.
In 2018 when DelDOT announced the historic project, the hope was to finish it in a condensed period of time rather than drawing it out to four or five years by dividing the projects up.
“It’s impossible to complete this work without losing some of the capacity on I-95. There’s insufficient width out there to provide a safe working environment and we worked on a sequence to minimize the [traffic impact],” said Neil Leary, of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, the design consultants on the project.
At minimum, there will be at least one Wilmington northbound off-ramp and two city southbound ramps at any time, Leary said. Contractors are working to remove portions of the median on segments of I-95 to create room for two lanes of traffic.
In the first phase of construction, the on-ramp from Martin Luther King Boulevard will be turned into an off-ramp from northbound I-95, providing access to Wilmington.
Exit 7 (Delaware Avenue) and Exit 6 (MLK/Maryland Avenue) will be closed. But the ramp from Adams Street onto northbound I-95 will be open, maintaining access right at the Brandywine River Bridge. All southbound lanes will remain open during the first phase of construction.
As northbound traffic crosses the Brandywine River Bridge and heads south of the Route 202 exit, the highway will be reduced from three lanes to two lanes.
That first phase of construction is expected to be completed by summer 2021.
If no traffic were to divert on other streets, Leary estimates delays up to 60 to 90 minutes. But due to mitigation efforts and other real-time examples of previous projects on I-495, he believes traffic would be reduced by 25% to 30%, resulting in a 20-minute delay on a commute.
But that’s based on modeling from pre-pandemic traffic figures, and with many corporate Wilmington employees working from home, it’s unclear how long morning and evening commutes will take with that reduced traffic load.
Right now there’s approximately 18% reduction in daily traffic on I-95 from this time last year, Leary said. During the morning peak period, it’s as low as 27%.
DelDOT has been in talks with SEPTA to also potentially offer more flexibility with the Wilmington route. DART is also offering a rewards program for rideshare participants, offering discounts on local attractions and coupons for pointer per ride. The rideshare program also offers 30 days of free ridership for new employees.
By Katie Tabeling