Sunday, June 16, 2024

Upgraded I-95/SR-896 interchange to create safer, more efficient commutes to Newark

NewsLocal NewsUpgraded I-95/SR-896 interchange to create safer, more efficient commutes to Newark

JOSHUA CILIBERTI
Associate News Editor





Motorists entering Newark from the south will soon have the “green light” for a safer, more efficient drive into the city.

Last May, Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) broke ground on a major upgrade project at the Interstate 95/State Route 896 (South College Avenue) interchange, known as Exit 1, south of Newark. 

The ongoing $284 million project aims to make traveling through the busy corridor safer by eliminating weave movements that result in backups along the I-95 mainline.

These backups are especially prevalent during rush hour periods, resulting in large speed differences between through and exiting traffic.

“There have been more than 700 crashes at this interchange since 2019 due to congestion and the current configuration,” DelDOT Secretary of Transportation Nicole Majeski said at the project’s groundbreaking ceremony. “This project is necessary in order to greatly reduce these incidents that cause serious injuries or worse.”

This will be accomplished with two new flyover ramps constructed over the interstate, the separation of high-speed and merging/diverging traffic and the lengthening of exit lanes, the project’s website read. 

One flyover ramp will connect southbound I-95 with southbound SR-896 traffic headed towards Middletown, while the other will serve motorists leaving Newark, connecting southbound SR-896 to northbound I-95 towards Wilmington. 

Overnight closures of both I-95 and South College Avenue took place Feb. 19-23 in order to install the beams making up the flyover ramps. 

Courtesy of 95896improvements.com and DelDOT

Travis Johnson, the president of the university’s section of the American Society of Highway Engineers, acknowledged the project’s greatest improvement will be centered around the removal of the current weave pattern that exists on southbound SR-896.

“You don’t want to have cars merging off of the highway fighting for the same lane as people merging onto it,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of rear-end and side-swipe crashes that happen there right now because of that. It’s a short distance so you should not have conflicting movements happening at the same time.”

Although the interchange has not undergone a full redesign until now, DelDOT has made improvements in the past 15 years to address minor deficiencies and traffic concerns.

The interchange was most recently reconfigured in 2020 to allow Newark-bound motorists exiting southbound I-95 to enter South College Avenue in their own lane, improving the safety of the congested merge, especially during peak hours. 

According to the project’s website, approximately 127,000 vehicles use this section of I-95 each day, with over 60% of these vehicles entering or exiting via Exit 1.

The volume of vehicles passing through the area combined with work zone delays has caused many motorists to detour around the project, resulting in added congestion on Newark’s back roads. 

“Now with the construction, it takes 30 minutes [to get to campus] regardless of what time I’m going,” senior Asian studies and English double major Hadaiba Ahad, who commutes to the university from Bear, said. “I have to pass through there because it’s a straight route from where I live.” 

Congestion is further heightened around Newark when an accident occurs in the project area or during scheduled highway shutdowns, Johnson, who is also a senior civil engineering major, mentioned. 

Courtesy of 95896improvements.com and DelDOT

During overnight closures, traffic is forced off of I-95 at either Exit 1 or Exit 109 in Maryland, with the posted detour following South College Avenue, Christina Parkway (SR-4) and Elkton Road (SR-279) to get back to the interstate. 

To make way for the upgraded interchange, trees needed to be cleared from the site, sparking environmental concerns for commuter student Naomie Pierre.

“I feel like they’re doing a lot of alterations to the environment that was previously there, but I don’t know if the benefits will outweigh the costs,” Pierre, a sophomore plant science major, said. “In general, whether it improves the traffic flow or not, there’s going to be something lost to the environment over there.”

The project site borders Iron Hill, one of the highest elevation points in the state, and the Christina River, which flows from Chester County, Pennsylvania, to its mouth at the Delaware River in Wilmington. 

As part of the project contract, DelDOT is required to complete tree mitigation, although this will not occur until the final stages of the interchange’s construction. 

“We’re going to try to mitigate and reforest as many trees as possible within the interchange area,” DelDOT Group Engineer Breanna Kovach said in a public information meeting for the project last April. “We do actually have an off-site mitigation area as well for both tree reforestation as well as wetland mitigation.”

In addition to changes for motorists, the project includes plans for a multimodal overpass, permitting pedestrians and bikers to get across the interstate. This will connect downtown and the university to residential areas south of the city, providing a sustainable travel option for commuter students who live nearby. 

According to the DelDOT Projects Portal, the upgraded interchange is scheduled to be completed by spring 2026.

Other major roadway infrastructure projects across the First State include the grade separation of SR-1 and SR-16 intersection in Sussex County, scheduled to be completed in fall 2025, along with the “Restore the Corridor” project in Wilmington, which was finalized last April. 

“Definitely be alert, be safe and drive slow through the work zone,” Johnson said. 

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1 COMMENT

  1. I’m sorry DelDOT- the 700 collisions in the last 5 years are not from the configuration. They are from the drivers who won’t take a second or two to merge correctly. The travel lane folks won’t let the folks in coming off the ramp. The folks coming off the ramp just butt in to the travel lane unsafely. And tempers flare. Roads are safe. They just sit there, never moving. If you want to make driving safer- you need to make drivers drive safer.

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