Construction will tie up traffic on I-95 in Del.

September 03, 1997|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON -- Delaware may be a little state, but it's about to become a big traffic obstacle for motorists on Interstate 95.

By early this evening, workers are scheduled to begin rebuilding two I-95 overpasses a few miles south of Wilmington. By October, the $26.3 million project will reduce from four to three the number of lanes open to traffic in both directions.

That could mean major traffic tie-ups until the lanes are reopened in late November, Delaware officials fear, particularly during rush hours when interstate travelers and commuters crowd the Northeast's primary north-south highway.

Highway crews "just have to show up on that stretch of I-95 and traffic slows down," said Paul J. Connor, a Delaware Department of Transportation construction supervisor. "It's going to be pretty bad."

The rebuilding of the I-95 overpasses at Route 7 is one of a dozen projects foreseen by Delaware officials over the next five to eight years that could snarl traffic along that state's portion of I-95.

To combat the problem, Delaware kicked off a $1 million campaign yesterday to encourage commuters to avoid driving on I-95 during peak hours. The effort features a mascot, a furry yellow "Traffic Creep" with a gap-toothed grin.

"These projects collectively are really going to wreak some serious havoc," said Michele C. Ackles, spokeswoman for the Transportation Department. "We need people to look at alternatives."

Delaware's stretch of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway -- the name of the toll portion of I-95 from suburban Baltimore to the Pennsylvania line -- averages about 170,000 vehicles a day. About 60 percent of the vehicles are traveling across state lines.

Officials said the projects are needed because the highway is showing signs of age. It was opened more than three decades ago by Kennedy shortly before he was assassinated.

Maryland officials said that if the Delaware lane closings cause serious problems, they will flash messages to warn drivers northbound on I-95, possibly recommending detours around the construction sites.

Meanwhile, interstate travelers will soon find problems to the south, too. In early 1999, construction will begin on the interchange of I-95, I-395 and I-495 in Springfield, Va., a $320 million project. About the same time, workers will be refurbishing 13 I-95 overpasses around Richmond, Va., at a cost of $100 million.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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