The $200 million construction project to rebuild five miles of I-95 from the I-495 split south of Wilmington to the Brandywine River Bridge north of the city will start March 1, officials announced at a public hearing Thursday evening.
They promised a maximum of two years of reduced lane capacity, and a minimum of at least one on-ramp and one off-ramp into and out of Wilmington during that construction.
The key part of the roadway was called “a cattle chute” during the meeting, referring to how it’s below grade, with limited access.
Those limits spurred officials to create playbooks on how to handle crashes and other emergencies in specific areas at particular times during construction, said Bill Geschrei, a project manager from Whitman, Requardt and Associates. They’re also looking at the availability of tow trucks.
Counting preliminary work already under way and finishing touches after lanes are back to normal, they promised the total project to run less than three years.
They promoted a Restore the Corridor website and a DelDOT app for updates.
“Yes, there will be congestion,” said Neil Leary, of Whitman, Requardt and Associates.
Officials hope that 25% to 30% of vehicles can be diverted to alternate routes, such as I-495, Route 13 and Kirkwood Highway.
That’s roughly the reduction experienced on I-95 during COVID-19 restrictions. Traffic is smooth now on the highway’s two and three lanes, but during construction there will often be only one lane, and they expect about 20-minute delays to get through the work zone.
DelDOT is installing traffic cameras and Bluetooth devices to give officials, drivers, Waze and digital maps real-time data of how traffic is (or is not) flowing on I-95 and important nearby roads. Drivers can reach out to #77 on their cellphones to add their information, said DelDOT spokesman C.R. McLeod.
The agency will take over more than 200 traffic signals on major Wilmington streets and be able to remotely adjust them from its Smyrna operations center. “This is a game changer,” Geschrei said.
The data that DelDOT gathers will also be displayed on variable message signs that, for instance, could give drivers estimates of travel time through the cattle chute or on alternate routes.
Officials said that they are completing some nearby projects – such as the Marsh Road exit and the Route 141 interchange – in anticipation of reducing issues during Restore the Corridor.
Highlights of the project include rehabilitation of 19 bridges and three miles of pavement, reconstruction of 11 on- and off-ramps and a fourth lane on the Brandywine River Bridge northbound.
Officials hope the work will allow I-95 to be used for another 30 years. It does not add capacity, but it does add safety.
Another public session is planned early next year. DelDOT and its consultants have divided the project into three phases, starting Feb. 12 with what the agency calls traffic controls.
Phase 1 closes I-95 northbound in the cattle chute and sends northbound traffic sharing the southbound side – one lane each – in a contraflow pattern. Phase 2 repeats the concept, with the southbound side closed. Phase 3 is the cleanup, with two lanes available in each direction.
The ramp from southbound 202 to southbound I-95 will go from two lanes to one for most of the construction. It often backed up before it was expanded a few years back.
The greatest risk to the timeline is ensuring that Amtrak service is not disrupted by debris and discoveries made only when rehabilitation starts on the bridges, said DelDOT bridge expert Jason Hastings, and “they’ve done a good job to mitigate that.” Geschrei said that extensive advanced testing on the bridges have hopefully eliminated any surprises.
Hearing participant Clara Robb asked what DelDOT has learned from the reconstruction of I-95 and Route 141, which participant James Coverdale called a “never-ending, horror show.”
One key lesson was asking contractors to consider time as part of their bids, Hastings said, ticking off other procedural changes.
“We feel like we’re at a really good place,” he concluded.