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Extra Lanes Reduce Congestion on SR 72 in Delaware

by: Larry Bernstein
Delaware DOT and Greggo & Ferrara, Inc., created better access for left turns on SR 72 through Wilmington and New Castle County.
Delaware DOT and Greggo & Ferrara, Inc., created better access for left turns on SR 72 through Wilmington and New Castle County.
The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) is in the middle of a project in Bear, which is approximately 10 miles south of Wilmington. The work is occurring on State Route 72, which runs through the city and New Castle County. Upon completion, area residents will experience more reliable travel times and a safer commute.

Along the 1.5-mile stretch of roadway where the project is taking place, the average daily traffic count is 17,000 vehicles and it’s projected to rise to 28,000 vehicles in 2040. This section of SR 72 is just west of SR 1, a major route in Delaware, and it's already experiencing congestion. There are many residences along this section of SR 72 along with some retail sprinkled in.

Congestion is particularly heavy during the morning and afternoon peak periods and on weekends. The route has only one lane in each direction in the area. Fueling the traffic back-ups is the wait while motorists are making left turns.

“There are many unsignalized access points which is another reason the route experiences congestion,” says Breanna Kovach, a DelDOT Group Engineer, who is serving as the project manager on the design side of the project. Typically, a correlation exists between congestion and safety, which was the case in this area.

“The area has a history of rear end crashes,” says Charlie Gabel, Lead Designer and Project Manager for Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson (JMT), a civil engineering firm that designed the project. “The crashes typically occur as motorists are waiting to make a turn into their driveway.”

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Buses also drive along the route, but there are no dedicated stops, so the corridor lacks transit service. There are also no bike facilities and sidewalk connections.

Improving Multi-Modal Transportation
The main thrust of the project is to reduce congestion. This is being done by adding a second lane in each direction and installing a center two-way left turn lane.

Other project elements include reconstructing deteriorating pavement, adding pedestrian, bicycle, and transit facilities, full-width shoulders, and traffic signals and medians where appropriate. New roadway lighting is being installed and drainage is being improved.

DelDOT and the team are going further to reduce the congestion and rear-end crashes. “We did a speed study and determined that the speed limit in the area was too high,” Gabel says. Currently, the speed limit along this stretch of SR 72 is 50 mph and the lanes are 12 feet wide. Upon completion, the speed limit will be 45 mph and the lanes will be 11 feet wide.

‘An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure’
Wise old Benjamin Franklin’s pithy sayings have been proven correct again in this project.

The SR 72 Improvements Project began in the fall of 2022 and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2024. However, a pre-project – an advanced utility project – occurred between the spring of 2019 and the end of the summer of 2021. Area Engineer Susan Maldonado credits the advanced utility project with keeping the SR 72 Improvements Project on schedule. “Utilities are generally in the way and scheduling their work is time-consuming.”

While DelDOT had constructed utility work in advance before, this instance had some distinct differences. The need for utility work was clear, since eight utility companies have infrastructure within the project area.

This was the first time DelDOT had an actual contract utility inspection staff, including a state contractor as part of advanced utility work. “The contractor was able to provide maintenance of traffic, which helped smooth out the process,” Maldonado says. “The staff helped keep things organized and coordinated with the utility companies so everyone knew who would work and when.”

There were other benefits to having the advanced utility work as the team learned about issues along the route. For example, they discovered a high groundwater table. The team put in well points to rectify the issue. If this issue had been discovered during construction, it would have led to delays. “The JMT team received as-builts and could alter the design based on what was discovered during the advanced utility work project,” Kovach says.

Bringing It Home
The general contractor is Greggo & Ferrara, Inc., a heavy civil, commercial, and industrial construction contractor headquartered in New Castle, Delaware, They have worked with DelDOT in the past.

They are proactive and make change suggestions when appropriate. “While doing some drainage and boxing out the road, the contractor realized the existing pavement box was thicker than anticipated,” Maldonado says. “They suggested we do a mill and overlay rather than pavement reconstruction.” This saved time and money.

The project is budgeted at approximately $20 million. Funding is being provided via the traditional 80/20 split by the federal and state governments. The project is on budget and Maldonado credits the advanced utility project for keeping it that way.

Congestion, elevated rear-end crashes, no bike paths, or sidewalks – SR 72 has many issues in the project area. Residents and commuters alike will enjoy the greater capacity, improved safety, and the multi-modal options on the reconstructed highway.

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