After months of miles-long traffic jams, the Delaware Department of Transportation opened all four southbound lanes of Interstate 95 yesterday just in time for the Thanksgiving rush. And today it will open all four northbound lanes.
The news couldn't come at a more opportune time for Maryland drivers heading to the Northeast for the holiday.
The department closed two lanes in each direction in September to complete an I-95 bridge deck replacement project at Delaware Route 72 (South Chapel Street). The closings have contributed to chronic traffic jams.
"It's a nightmare on a good day," reader Marcie Levenstein, who frequently travels the road with her family to Philadelphia, said in an e-mail. "The time of day makes no difference."
Michael Williams, a spokesman for the Delaware agency, said motorists can still expect to see the Delaware turnpike's traditional backups at the Newark Toll Plaza this holiday weekend as traffic overwhelms even the full capacity of the highway.
"I'm sure there will be some kind of slowdown at some point," he said. According to Williams, traffic volume is especially heavy on Thanksgiving morning and on Sunday afternoon and evening - as people head home to return to work Monday.
Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the lane reopening is welcome news for travelers in the busy I-95 corridor.
"Delaware, while it might not be a big destination, is certainly a place a lot of people go through on their way to Grandma's house for turkey," he said.
Anderson said traffic volume could be especially heavy this Thanksgiving because the price of gasoline has dropped to levels that - while not inexpensive by historical standards - look downright cheap compared to the price as recently as August.
Williams said the end of construction will bring the turnpike back to its full capacity until next spring, when the road's shoulders will be closed for four years for the next phase of the state's I-95 improvement project.
The improvements, which will ultimately widen the highway to five lanes in each direction, will be carried out over 15 to 20 years, he said.
Williams said Delaware also plans to upgrade the Newark Toll Plaza, where traffic has been known to back up for more than an hour on busy holiday weekends while the state collects its toll of $3 per passenger car.
The upgrade will allow cars equipped with E-ZPass electronic toll collection devices to pass through the toll plaza at highway speeds, Williams said.
Motorists should not expect relief in the near future, however. "It'll be a while," Williams said. "We're talking eight to 10 years out."