This 2000 photo shows the southbound I-495 (Wilmington Bypass) through the Port of Wilmington. To the left of I-495 is the Amtrak-SEPTA Northeast Corridor rail line, and in the background is the twin-span Delaware Memorial Bridge (I-295 and US 40). (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
THE DELAWARE RIVER PARKWAY: In 1932, the Regional Planning Federation (the predecessor agency to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) proposed a parkway system around the Philadelphia area similar to that constructed by Robert Moses. Like the Moses parkways in New York, the four-lane parkways were to feature controlled access, stone-arch bridges, timber lightposts and natural vegetation.
Most of the Delaware River waterfront had been occupied for industrial uses, and therefore unsuitable for construction of a scenic parkway. However, the regional plan proposed a parkway from New Castle north to Claymont, roughly along the alignment of the current I-495. Through this area in northern Delaware, the waterfront had not yet been developed. The lack of a regional "power broker" like Moses ultimately doomed plans for the scenic parkway.
THE WILMINGTON BYPASS: In 1955, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) proposed two routes through Wilmington. One route, which would eventually become I-95, was to serve local traffic in the city of Wilmington, while the other route, which would eventually become I-495, was to serve as the "Wilmington Bypass" (as the route was referred to in some documents) connecting at either end to I-95.
Construction of the toll-free I-95 from the Delaware Turnpike north to the Delaware-Pennsylvania border began in 1963, and by 1968, the entire route of I-95 through Delaware had opened to traffic. (According to 1964 plans, the I-895 designation was to apply to the current route of I-95, while the I-95 designation was to apply to the current I-495.)
It was not until 1973 when the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) began work on the Wilmington Bypass (I-495). Originally planned as a four-lane expressway, I-495 was constructed as a six-lane expressway with interchanges at US 13 (DuPont Highway), DE 9A (Terminal Avenue), East 12th Street, and US 13 (Philadelphia Pike). An expressway spur was planned at East 12th Street, but when this proposal was withdrawn, the existing street was extended to meet I-495 at a diamond interchange instead.
The entire 11.5-mile-long Wilmington Bypass opened to traffic in 1978. However, when it opened, the new road did not carry the I-495 designation. From 1978 to 1982, the existing I-95 through Wilmington received a temporary designation - I-895 - while DelDOT reconstructed that route. During the reconstruction period, I-95 traffic - and the designation - was temporarily shifted to the newly opened I-495. Once the project was completed, new I-495 signs appeared along the bypass.
In the late 1980's, DelDOT built a new interchange at EXIT 4 (DE 3 / Edgemoor Road) to serve Wilmington's northeast suburbs and the industrial area along the Delaware River. DelDOT resurfaced the entire length of I-495 in the early 1990's. During 2000, through traffic was diverted onto I-495 once again when I-95 was closed for a major reconstruction project from Wilmington north to Claymont.
According to DelDOT, I-495 carries approximately 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT). In 1996, DelDOT raised the speed limit to 65 MPH along the length of I-495.
SHOULD I-495 SWITCH BACK TO I-95? Writing in The Wilmington News-Journal, Ron Williams posited that the existing I-495 revert to its original I-95 designation as follows:
Federal highway officials originally designated what's now I-495 as I-95. The highway through Wilmington was going to be 495… (The designation) did change and in retrospect the wrong way. We wouldn't be in this hair-pulling contest had it stayed the way it was planned. If you have any doubt about that bit of ancient trivia, ask any businessman who was buying property around the Port of Wilmington in the late 1960s. One even named his company "I-95 Associates." It was later changed to "I-495 Associates."
Supporters of changing the I-495 designation back to I-95 include Wilmington Mayor Jim Baker, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, the Delaware House of Representatives, and dozens of civic and business groups. They claim the changing the designation would send the thousands of long-distance motorists who clog the existing I-95 through Wilmington onto the bypass route. According to DelDOT, "signs directing traffic bound for Philadelphia or Baltimore to use the bypass (I-495) remain in place as does the supposed incentive of a 65 MPH speed limit, but the tendency for drivers to stay on the main corridors with two-digit route designations (such as I-95) evidently is controlling." DelDOT has no plans to change the I-95 and I-495 designations through the Wilmington area.
REHABILITATING THE CHRISTINA RIVER BRIDGE: In March 2004, DelDOT began work on a three-year-long project to rehabilitate the Christina River Bridge, a multiple girder-span viaduct measuring more than three-quarters of a mile. The work included replacing bearings and joints, repairing concrete, strengthening structural members, fixing the fender system, and cleaning and painting the steel superstructure. The project was completed in 2007.
This 2003 photo shows the northbound Wilmington Bypass (I-495) at EXIT 5 (US 13) in Claymont. The junction for northbound I-95 is one mile north of this point. (Photo by Eric Stuve, okroads.com)
To eliminate confusion among motorists traveling on the East Coast, and to better accommodate traffic through Wilmington, the following new designations should be assigned as follows:
Beginning in New Castle, Delaware, the "local" I-95 would serve Delaware via the existing I-495 alignment, and Pennsylvania through the existing I-95 alignment (Delaware Expressway). It would then cross the Delaware River-Turnpike Toll Bridge (I-276) and rejoin the "express" I-95 at EXIT 6 of the New Jersey Turnpike.
A companion route, "express" I-95 would comprise of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the current I-295 approaches, and the length of the New Jersey Turnpike north to EXIT 6.
Finally, the present I-95 through downtown Wilmington should be re-designated I-895.
(Thanks to phillyroads.com and misc.transport.road contributor Chris Blaney for the recommendation.)
SOURCES: Regional Plan of the Philadelphia Tri-State District, Regional Planning Federation (1932); "New York-Washington Road Now Nonstop" by Ben A. Franklin, The New York Times (11/14/1963); "Delaware To Close Interstate 95 for Work This Summer" by Jere Downs, The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/21/2000); "Preparing for the I-95 Reconstruction Project" by Prashant Gopal, The Wilmington News-Journal (3/05/2000); "I-495 Drivers Go with Flow, Which Is Fast" by Ralph Moyed, The Wilmington News-Journal (4/20/2000); "Only One Man Holds the Lock on I-95 Routing" by Ron Williams, The Wilmington News-Journal (5/01/2001); "I-495 Was I-95 at the Dawn of Creation" by Ron Williams, The Wilmington News-Journal (5/04/2001); "Advocates of I-95 Signage Turns Green" by Ron Williams, The Wilmington News-Journal (7/03/2001); "Draft FY 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program," Delaware Department of Transportation (2006); Delaware Department of Transportation; Chris Blaney; Scott Kozel; Dan Mengel; Alex Nitzman; Scott Oglesby; Ken Weaverling; William F. Yurasko.
I-495, I-95, and I-895 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.