This 2002 photo shows the northbound I-95 (Wilmington Expressway) at EXIT 6 (DE 4 / Maryland Avenue) in downtown Wilmington. The viaduct was rebuilt in 2001. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)
A TOLL-FREE I-95 THROUGH WILMINGTON: 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. Both routes were recommended by planning officials in Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Around the time work was completed on the original Delaware Turnpike in 1963, construction crews began extending I-95 north through Wilmington toward the Delaware-Pennsylvania border. The construction of I-95 - shown alternatively on planning maps as the "Wilmington Expressway" and the "Adams-Jackson Freeway" - bisected the city, cutting a swath through established neighborhoods and removing four historic churches. Part of the route comprised of an open rock cut, while another part took the route on a one-mile-long viaduct above the city and the Brandywine River.
By 1967, a five-mile section of I-95 between the "Newport interchange" and EXIT 8 (US 202 / Concord Pike) in Wilmington had opened to traffic. This section included the six-lane Wilmington (Brandywine) viaduct. One year later, I-95 was completed north to Claymont, at the Delaware-Pennsylvania border.
Lane configurations on the toll-free section of I-95 are as follows:
EXIT 5 (I-295 / I-495 / DE 141) to EXIT 6 (DE 4 / Maryland Avenue): six lanes (3-3)
EXIT 6 to EXIT 7 (DE 52 / Delaware Avenue): four lanes (2-2)
EXIT 7 to EXIT 8 (US 202 / Concord Pike), including the Wilmington (Brandywine) viaduct: six lanes (3-3)
EXIT 8 to EXIT 11 (I-495 / Wilmington Bypass): four lanes (2-2)
EXIT 11 to the Delaware-Pennsylvania border: six or more lanes (3-3)
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE VIADUCT SECTION (1978-1982): When the parallel I-495, which provides a six-lane bypass route of Wilmington, was completed in 1979, reconstruction began on I-95 between EXIT 5 and EXIT 8. Two highlights of the reconstruction project were as follows:
The twin-span Wilmington (Brandywine) viaduct was rebuilt. DelDOT closed one three-lane span at a time, removing the old deck and replacing it with a new, wider deck. During reconstruction, the alternate three-lane span was reconfigured to allow two lanes of travel in each direction.
At EXIT 7 (DE 52), the exit ramps were relocated two blocks north to the current site.
I-895 IN DELAWARE? During the reconstruction period, I-95 traffic - and the designation - was temporarily shifted to the newly opened I-495. The existing I-95 through Wilmington received a temporary designation: I-895. But was it really a temporary designation? Chris Blaney, contributor to phillyroads.com and misc.transport.road, found a 1964 planning map with the 1978-1982 "temporary" designations: I-95 on the bypass route, I-895 on the route through Wilmington. He added the following:
As the bypass was delayed for so long, it was decided for continuity sake to give I-95 to the through route and I-495 to the bypass route, when completed. The original plan was then only revived as a temporary solution for the construction.
Furthermore, I-895 was to the proposed designation for the new Burlington-Bristol Bridge, and its (unbuilt) approaches between the Delaware Expressway (I-95) in Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Turnpike. New Jersey and Pennsylvania may have prevailed upon Delaware to drop the I-895 designation, as it would have been too close to the unbuilt I-895. In contrast, the I-495 designations in Delaware and New Jersey were over 120 miles apart. (The I-495 designation in New Jersey has since been dropped.)
These 2004 photos show the I-95 bridge over Brandywine Creek. Built during the early 1960's, the six-lane span was rehabilitated during the late 1970's, and again during the early 2000's. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, aaroads.com.)
THE SECOND STAGE OF RECONSTRUCTION (2000-2003): After more than three decades of service, I-95 from EXIT 8 (US 202) north to the Delaware-Pennsylvania border underwent extensive reconstruction. Darren O'Neill, DelDOT project manager, said that this section of I-95 had aged ten years past its useful service life. The $24 million reconstruction project, the first to be undertaken on this northernmost stretch of I-95 in Delaware, affected the 110,000 motorists per day (AADT) that utilize this stretch. Under Interstate highway funding, the Federal government financed 90 percent of the construction cost, with the remaining cost financed by the state.
The project, which lasted through much of 2000, included not only resurfacing, but also reconstruction of the underlying roadbed, safety upgrades, major bridge rehabilitation and drainage improvements. About 70 percent of the joints on this section either failed or needed repair, and exit ramps and bridges needed structural or safety improvements.
To expedite construction, the project was divided into two stages, and through traffic was diverted to I-495. During the first stage of reconstruction, the southbound lanes were shut down completely from April to July 2000. This part of the project was completed days ahead of schedule, allowing crews to begin work immediately on reconstructing the northbound lanes. The northbound lanes, which had been shut down for three months, reopened in October 2000. For completing the project early, George and Lynch, the main project contractor, received a $950,000 bonus.
In the spring of 2001, DelDOT began work on the one-mile-long I-95 viaduct between Fourth Street and Frawley Stadium. The DelDOT repairs included rehabilitating and jacking the concrete piers, replacing the steel bearings, repainting the girders, and improving the drainage system. On the roadway level, DelDOT repaired the bridge railing and protective shield. The project was completed in October 2003. Because much of the work took place beneath the roadway, traffic delays were minimized.
At the same time, DelDOT made aesthetic improvements to the "Adams-Jackson" section through downtown Wilmington. All of the bridges along this section, including the Brandywine River span, were rehabilitated. Landscape architects carefully blended the newly refurbished highway into the nearby surroundings by adding new decorative screens, lightposts and trees. This "context-sensitive" design work was completed during 2002 and 2003.
CHANGES FOR INTERCHANGES: DelDOT plans the following interchange improvements on I-95:
The state is setting aside $20 million for construction of a new interchange, which would be built just south of the current EXIT 6 (DE 4 / Maryland Avenue), to serve the Wilmington waterfront and Frawley Stadium. No timetable has been established for construction of the new EXIT 6A.
At EXIT 8 (US 202 / Concord Pike) in Wilmington, DelDOT plans to widen the one-lane flyover ramp from northbound I-95 to US 202 to two lanes, as well as make other interchange safety improvements. The $36 million project is scheduled for completion in 2011.
SHOULD I-95 REVERT TO I-495? In 2001, Ron Williams, an editorial writer for The Wilmington News-Journal, suggested that DelDOT re-designate the existing I-95 as I-495, and the existing I-495 bypass as I-95. Similarly, business and civic groups suggest re-designated the current I-495 as I-95, but wish to designate the existing I-95 as "Business I-95" (or "green I-95") so as not to confuse motorists and discourage business. Such a re-designation would alleviate congestion through downtown Wilmington by directing long-distance traffic to the bypass route. DelDOT has no plans to change the I-95 and I-495 designations through the Wilmington area.
AND SHOULD A DECK BE BUILT ATOP I-95? At an economic development in May 2004, Wilmington Mayor James Baker proposed building a quarter-mile-long deck over the depressed section of I-95, between West 8th Street and Delaware Avenue (DE 52) in downtown Wilmington. The deck, which would reunite the Cool Spring-Tilton Park and Trinity Vicinity neighborhoods that were divided by I-95 construction during the early 1960's, would have plazas, parks and a mixed-use high-rise building. It would be similar to the deck built over I-95 some 30 miles north in Center City Philadelphia.
This 2004 photo shows the Wilmington Expressway (I-95) at EXIT 7 (DE 52 / Delaware Avenue), looking north from the 11th Street onramp in downtown Wilmington. Note the recent cosmetic improvements along the highway mainline. US 202 is multiplexed with I-95 from EXIT 5 north to EXIT 8. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, aaroads.com.)
To eliminate confusion among motorists traveling on the East Coast, the following new "local" and "express" designations for I-95 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: "Delaware Expressway: Regional Lifeline," Philadelphia City Planning Commission (1954); "Two I-95 Lanes Are Closed for Repair Near Wilmington," The Philadelphia Inquirer (11/16/1994); Divided Highways by Tom Lewis, Viking-Penguin Books (1997); "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); "A History of I-95" by Prashant Gopal, The Wilmington News-Journal (4/02/2000); "I-95 Job Smooth As Can Be" by Prashant Gopal, The Wilmington News-Journal (10/14/2000); "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); "Lawmakers Get To-Do List from DelDOT" by Jennifer Portman, The Wilmington News-Journal (5/17/2001); "Advocates of I-95 Signage Turns Green" by Ron Williams, The Wilmington News-Journal (7/03/2001); "Vision for Wilmington: Deck Over I-95," The Wilmington News-Journal (5/12/2004); "State To Get Millions for Roads" by Jennifer Brooks, The Wilmington News-Journal (7/29/2005); "Draft FY 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program," Delaware Department of Transportation (2006); Chris Blaney; Raymond C. Martin; Dan Mengel; Alex Nitzman; Scott Oglesby; Jeff Taylor; Ken Weaverling; William F. Yurasko.
I-95 and I-895 shields by Ralph Herman. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.