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This 2010 photo shows the northbound Delaware Turnpike (I-95) approximately two miles south of the I-95 / I-295 / I-495 / DE 141 interchange in Newport. A two-year, $52 million project to provide an additional travel lane in each direction was completed in 2009. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)

NON-STOP THROUGH THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR: When the first Delaware Memorial Bridge opened in 1951, state officials planned a toll expressway to connect the new span with the Chesapeake Bay-William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge. The proposed "Maryland Expressway," which was to have been funded partially with proceeds from the Delaware Memorial Bridge tolls, was to be constructed parallel to US 301 through the Delmarva Peninsula. The toll road never was constructed.

Four years later, in 1955, state officials returned with a proposal for a new toll road, the Delaware Turnpike, which was to connect the Delaware Memorial Bridge with the Northeast Expressway, a toll road being developed by the state of Maryland. Together with the New Jersey Turnpike and other routes, a nonstop route would be provided from New York to Washington. Original plans called for the Delaware Turnpike to be financed by Delaware Memorial Bridge tolls, but soon after plans were announced, a new agency was created to fund, construct and maintain the toll road.

A TOLL ROAD IN THE HEIGHT OF THE INTERSTATE ERA: In 1956, the Federal Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) authorized construction of a controlled-access route along the US 40 corridor - it eventually received the I-95 designation - from the Wilmington-New Castle area south to Baltimore. Despite the promise of 90 percent Federal funding for a free I-95, the states of Delaware and Maryland had to advance the full cost of the highway up front. In 1960, the state legislatures of Delaware and Maryland authorized construction of I-95 as a toll facility. It was thought that constructing a toll I-95 would accelerate completion of the Interstate system in the respective states.

On November 15, 1963, just one week before his assassination, President John F. Kennedy opened the 11 miles of the Delaware Turnpike and the 47 miles of the Northeast Expressway (later renamed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway) at the Delaware-Maryland border. The border, more popularly known as the Mason-Dixon line, also celebrated its bicentennial that day. In addition to President Kennedy, Robert Moses presided over the opening of I-95 in Delaware and Maryland. The Delaware Turnpike, the second controlled-access highway to open in Delaware, was completed at a cost of $30 million.

When the Delaware Turnpike opened, its exit numbering system continued that of the Northeast Expressway from Maryland. This changed in 1973, when the present exit numbering system along I-95 in Delaware was implemented. However, EXIT 2, which was to have been used for the proposed Pike Creek Freeway (US 301), never was constructed.

Over the years, the Delaware State Highway Department, and later, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) made improvements to the original four-lane turnpike. Between 1968 and 1972, the turnpike was widened to six lanes, a project that was funded by turnpike tolls. Around this time, interchange tolls also financed the reconstruction of EXIT 1 (DE 896), EXIT 3 (DE 273) and EXIT 4 (DE 1 / DE 7 / DE 58).

In the early 1980's, DelDOT built a fourth travel lane in each direction from EXIT 1 to EXIT 5 (I-95 / I-295 / I-495 / DE 141) in New Castle. In the following decade, DelDOT resurfaced the 11-mile-long toll section.

This 2000 photo shows the southbound Delaware Turnpike (I-95) approaching the Delaware House service area in Newark. This service plaza was rebuilt in 2009 and 2010. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

OVERVIEW OF THE TOLL SYSTEM: The Delaware Turnpike opened with a ten-cent toll at the Newark barrier toll plaza, and five-cent tolls were collected at interchanges. In 1970, a failed one-month experiment used the honor system: drivers who lacked exact change for the automated toll machines were to mail tolls in preaddressed envelopes that were dispensed at the machines. The interchange tolls were removed in 1976, but evidence of the former tolls remains: ramps widen and straighten out in the area of the former tollbooths. In 1998, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) expanded the Newark barrier toll plaza, adding lanes for the EZ-Pass interregional toll system.

In the mid-2000's, Governor Ruth Ann Minner and DelDOT suggested public-private partnerships, including leasing the Delaware Turnpike, DE 1 Turnpike, and proposed US 301 Turnpike to private firms, to address DelDOT's budget shortfalls. Under such an arrangement, the state would receive a lump-sum payment while the private firms would collect tolls and maintain the highways.

IMPROVING THE TURNPIKE: To finance a series of projects intended to ease congestion and increase capacity, DelDOT raised the toll on passenger cars from $2.00 (in each direction) to $3.00 in October 2005 and again to $4.00 in October 2007 to finance these and other projects. It also eliminated discounts for EZ-Pass users. DelDOT used the toll increases to fund the following projects:

  • Just north of EXIT 4, DelDOT replaced the four-lane Churchmans Road (DE 58) overpass with a new bridge that accommodates not only an expanded I-95 mainline, but also future acceleration-deceleration lanes for the proposed EXIT 4 interchange expansion. The $13 million project was completed in December 2006, one year behind schedule.

  • DelDOT completed minor interchange improvements at EXIT 1 (DE 896) in Newark. The $1.5 million project was finished in late 2008.

  • DelDOT expanded the turnpike mainline from four to five lanes in each direction between EXIT 4 and EXIT 5 (I-295 / I-495 / DE 141) in Newport, and through the area immediately south of EXIT 5, the roadways were expanded to six lanes in each direction. New shoulders measuring 12 feet to 14 feet wide were built through the project area. Nearby wetlands placed restrictions on the width of the work zone, so the contractors had to close two lanes in each direction in the overnight hours; the contract required that the crews reopen all lanes by the morning rush hour or face penalties. The $52 million project was completed in November 2008.

  • DelDOT, in conjunction with HMSHost, is rebuilding the Delaware House service plaza. The old 1963 building was torn down after Labor Day weekend in 2009, and is being replaced with a new 42,600 square-foot main building and an ancillary 5,700 square-foot building for the separate gasoline station and convenience store. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2010.

  • DelDOT plans to replace the existing 20-lane Newark toll plaza with an 18-lane plaza at the current site. The rebuilt plaza will feature four new high-speed EZ-Pass lanes, a new overhead walkway for toll plaza workers, and reconstruction of 14 existing tollbooths for the remaining lanes that will accept cash. Work on the $43 million plaza, whose construction schedule originally had been scheduled for the 2011-2013 period, was advanced by one year because DelDOT received Federal stimulus funds for the project.

  • At EXIT 4 (DE 1 Turnpike and DE 7) in Christiana, DelDOT plans a $165 million reconstruction project that will include a new three-lane, high-speed flyover ramp from southbound I-95 to southbound DE 1 / DE 7, as well as a new collector-distributor (C/D) road along northbound DE 1 / DE 7 that will serve northbound I-95 and the nearby Christiana Mall. The project is slated to begin in the spring of 2011, with completion not expected until at least 2015.

LOCAL AND EXPRESS SEPARATION PLANNED? Original plans called for a dual-dual configuration, similar to that found on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95), to be constructed at a later date. Although since abandoned, the following vestiges of this plan remain:

  • The overpasses at EXIT 1 and EXIT 3 have space between the shoulders and bridge abutments for additional roadways.

  • Southbound on the collector-distributor (C/D) road at EXIT 4B, the bridge has a very wide shoulder. This space would have accommodated additional lanes.

This 2002 photo shows the northbound Delaware Turnpike (I-95) at the split for I-95 / I-295 / I-495 in New Castle. (Photo by Jim K. Georges.)

The speed limit should be raised to 65 MPH on the Delaware Turnpike between the Delaware-Maryland border and EXIT 5.

Further north, 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 Seeks To Extend Tolls," The New York Times (10/04/1955); "New York-Washington Road Now Nonstop" by Ben A. Franklin, The New York Times (11/14/1963); "Kennedy, on Mason-Dixon Line, Opens Part of North-South Road" by Marjorie Hunter, The New York Times (11/15/1963); "Honor System Ending on Delaware Turnpike," The New York Times (7/04/1970); "Lawmakers Get To-Do List from DelDOT" by Jennifer Portman, The Wilmington News-Journal (5/17/2001); "Churchmans I-95 Span To Be Replaced" by Sean O'Sullivan, The Wilmington News-Journal (2/25/2004); "State Decides on a Fix for I-95 Traffic" by Sean O'Sullivan, The Wilmington News-Journal (5/11/2004); "Delaware Plans To Raise I-95 Tolls," The Baltimore Sun (6/30/2005); "I-95 Widening Project Added to Budget" by Patrick Jackson and Angie Basiouny," The Wilmington News-Journal (7/02/2005); "Delaware Reported Upping Tolls 50% To Balance Budget" by Peter Samuel, Toll Roads News (7/02/2005); "Churchmans Road Bridge Over I-95 Completed," The Wilmington News-Journal (12/08/2006); "DelDOT Considers Cashing In on Toll Roads" by Summer Harlow, The Wilmington News-Journal (1/07/2007); "Settlement Won't Speed I-95 Plan" by Angie Basiouny,  The Wilmington News-Journal (1/11/2007); "Higher Tolls, Fees Start Today," The Wilmington News-Journal (10/01/2007); "Delaware Considering I-95 Toll Plaza Improvement" by Robert Thomson, The Washington Post (2/11/2009); "JFK Memorial Highway Improvement Program, Newark Toll Plaza / I-95," Delaware Department of Transportation (2010); "JFK Memorial Highway Improvement Program, SR 1 / I-95 Interchange," Delaware Department of Transportation (2010); Chris Blaney; Scott Kozel; Raymond C. Martin; Dan Mengel; Alex Nitzman; Scott Oglesby; Peter Samuel; Sandy Smith; Jeff Taylor; Ken Weaverling; William F. Yurasko.

  • I-95 and I-895 shields by Ralph Herman.
  • Delaware Turnpike shield by James Lin.
  • Delaware Turnpike token photo by Rush Wickes.
  • Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.
  • Speed limit sign by C.C. Slater.

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