June 25, 2001

Several city neighborhoods are in for an onslaught of traffic two years hence when Interstate 95 through Wilmington is rebuilt, but DelDOT is having a hard time getting anyone interested in planning to meet the situation.

Until Delaforum learned of  its existence in an indirect manner, a community advisory group on the project was meeting virtually unnoticed in an effort to devise an arrangement for working on the highway in a way that will produce the least amount of disruption elsewhere. That is in sharp contrast with the long planning and media ballyhoo which preceded reconstruction of the road between Concord Pike and the Pennsylvania border.

The through-Wilmington phase of the three-part project is scheduled to occur in 2003, following completion of work, now under way, on the south Wilmington viaduct. The affected section runs between Fourth Street and Concord Pike with the southbound Concord Pike interchange included.

As previously reported, the committee has narrowed options for how to proceed to four: Maintain four lanes of traffic by using the shoulders, reduce the flow in both directions from two lanes to one lane, alternately close off southbound and then northbound traffic as was done in the northern section, or shut down the highway completely.

At a meeting on June 20, the committee was told that construction will take from March to November, 2003, under the first option with completion becoming progressively sooner, back to August, with the others.

In any event, the question is what to do with traffic -- primarily commuters coming into the city on workday mornings and leaving in the afternoons. That is about 20,000 vehicles.

Consultant Jennifer Walsh said the most heavily impacted area, no matter which form of traffic diversion -- highway people no longer like to talk about detours -- is adopted, will be the Triangle neighborhood bounded by Broom and 18th Streets, Concord Avenue and Baynard Boulevard. Others feeling the pinch will be Adams and Jackson Streets and the city entrances along Walnut and King Streets.

Delaware Department of Transportation project manager Darren O'Neill said that the first step toward reducing the volume will be to again divert through traffic from I-95 to Interstate 495. That, he explained, has to involve more than just posting construction warnings. "People generally like to follow the I-95 symbol" and will do so regardless of what the signs say, he said.

Since it will be advisable to keep as much of I-95 as possible open to handle local traffic and avoid shunting it to roads through Brandywine Hundred, O'Neill suggested a total blockage of southbound passage at the I-95-I-495 split just north of Naamans Road while keeping the entry ramps at Naamans, Harvey and Marsh roads open. Through traffic thereby would be effectively switched over to the riverside bypass while locals in the know could still access the main highway, he explained.

Still, he said, work-related closures -- including the shoulders options -- will significantly reduce the highway's capacity and most likely create traffic backups.

2001. All rights reserved.

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