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SR 273/I-95 Interchange Improvements Reduce Traffic Weaving Near Newark, Delaware

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews dig a foundation for signage on the SR 275/I-95 Interchange Improvements Project outside of Newark.
Crews dig a foundation for signage on the SR 275/I-95 Interchange Improvements Project outside of Newark.
Weaving is necessary for textile production. But when traffic is weaving – that’s a problem. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is engaged in the SR 273/I-95 Interchange Improvements project to reduce weaving outside of Newark, Delaware, which is in the northwest part of the state.

In 2017, DelDOT completed a planning study documenting the project area and found the roadway experiences heavy recurring congestion during the weekday morning and afternoon peak hours. The source of the problem is a large volume of traffic weaving within a short distance as motorists move between southbound Interstate 95 and westbound State Route 273 to the intersection with Harmony Road.

The weaving area, which is just 475 feet, had a reputation. Drivers familiar with the traffic and the challenges involved would drive on the shoulders to cut into traffic. Because of the significant amount of daily traffic and the weaving, the area was a safety hazard. During the study phase of the project, between December 2011 and December 2013, there were 131 crashes near the SR 273 and Harmony intersection and 23 crashes along the actual southbound I-95 off ramp.

Moving the Intersection
To alleviate the weaving and safety issues at the interchange, DelDOT is taking multiple steps. The primary elements are moving the I-95 southbound ramp further east from the SR 273/Harmony Road intersection and installing a new traffic signal at this relocated ramp to help meter traffic.

“By shifting access east, we are creating more distance and giving drivers more time to change lanes,” says Breanna Kovach, a Group Engineer on the design team for DelDOT. “Putting in a signal, helps drivers regulate who gets off when and eliminates the weaving condition.”

The team is also realigning the exit ramp from northbound I-95 to westbound SR 273.

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“Northbound ramp access is being tweaked and the realignment will lead to better stop conditions,” Kovach says.

In addition, a 1,400-foot-long third lane is being added to westbound SR 273 between the ramp to southbound I-95 and the intersection at Harmony Road. “The additional lane will add traffic capacity and weaving time leading to improved conditions,” says Brandon Burris, a Project Design Engineer with RK&K, a civil engineering firm.

Because the team will already be doing work in this busy area, they are performing other necessary construction. The work includes:

  • Concrete pavement patching on SR 273 to repair existing cracks and deficiencies within the pavement layers
  • Resurfacing of the entire interchange and ramps to refresh the top layer of pavement
  • Replacement of curb and guardrail throughout the interchange to enhance driver safety and meet current guidelines
  • Replacement of high mast lighting throughout the interchange and on I-95
  • Replacement of overhead sign structures on SR 273 and I-95 to meet current Delaware traffic safety standards
  • Installation of a new stormwater management facility within the interchange
  • Bridge deck patching, deck joint rehabilitation, bearing replacements, and resurfacing of the SR 273 Bridge over I-95 (Bridge 1-715)

They are also installing high friction surface treatment on various ramps. This helps maintain pavement friction and is especially helpful when it’s raining and vehicles are traveling at high speeds.

While DelDOT has considered a larger scale project at the interchange, such as installing a Diverging Diamond Interchange, it was not prepared to go through with such a large project at this time. “This project has a smaller scope and smaller budget, yet it will help to alleviate traffic, so it’s a good project,” said Kovach.

Construction Challenges
Since I-95 is a major interstate in Delaware, the team had to be particularly aware of limiting impacts on commuters and the overall traveling public. They have been following a phased approach to keep all lanes open as best they can while still getting their work done. There have been some lane closures, detours, and regular night work involved in the project.
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“Westbound SR 273 traffic has been the main priority and challenge, and at one point it was reduced to one lane,” says Chance Malkin, an Area Engineer with DelDOT, who oversees the construction side of things on the project. The lane reduction led to backups and some frustration from commuters, but it was necessary and the team limited it as much as possible.

COVID-19 has led to other challenges. “Dealing with COVID has been a challenge throughout the project,” Malkin says. Now, he notes the issue is on the supply side of things. “We are installing steel overhead sign structures and procuring the steel has been a challenge.”

Supply Issues Extend the Schedule
A-Del Construction Company, which is headquartered in Newark, Delaware, and is a heavy civil construction contractor, is serving as the lead on the project. They have worked with DelDOT on many projects.

“They know how we like to operate, our standards and specs, as well as what our department prefers and what we will approve and deny,” Malkin says. “We have a smooth working relationship with them.”

The project began in the spring of 2021 and construction was scheduled to conclude this month. However, the original 446-day contract may be extended into the summer. The delay is due to the challenges with acquiring the steel noted above.

The steel is necessary for six sign structures. Three will be situated on I-95 north of the interchange and span the entire width of the roadway. The updates to the signing on these massive structures are per the requirements from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Malkin expects the remainder of the project to be completed on time.

The project has a budget of $11.75 million. Financing is being handled via a 90/10 split, with the federal government paying the larger share and the state government the remainder. So far, the project is on budget with the normal contingency. The only major change order is related to an additional sign structure added as a plan revision after construction started.

“I give kudos to the design team for this project being on budget as plans are clear and easy to follow,” Malkin says. “Another helpful factor was that the construction team was involved in the design phase and the design team has stayed involved through construction.”  

This fosters a team spirit, and Burris notes it takes a team to complete a project on budget. Kovach adds, “There’s been clear constant communication throughout the process.”

Upon project completion, the traveling public will experience improved traffic operations and safety while driving between SR 273 and I-95 due to the elimination of the weaving condition.

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