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NEWARK -- For decades, Delaware politicians have heard endless complaints from anyone who has ever driven through the First State about being stuck in a long line at the I-95 toll plaza.

"To sit in line for sometimes 10, 20, 30 minutes for the right, the privilege, of paying us money to go through our state, it was abhorring," said. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "It was a badge of shame."

Delaware's political leaders are no longer ashamed of the state's place along the Northeast Corridor.

"What I can tell you for sure is we're a whole lot more popular than we were a few weeks ago," Gov. Jack Markell said Monday at a rededication ceremony for the toll plaza that handles 90,000 to 100,000 cars per day.

Even though new highway-speed E-ZPass lanes officially opened for the Fourth of July weekend, state officials were still gloating Monday about the $32.6 million reconstruction project.

Most of the project funding came from the Obama administration's $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The remainder came from the state's transportation funds and regular federal highway funding.

"You can say whatever you want, this would not have happened without the Recovery Act," said Markell, a Democrat.

A-Del Construction Co. of Newark completed the 479-day project a month early. The company was initially awarded a $32.6 million construction contract, but the total cost is estimated to be $33.9 million because of change orders, according to DelDOT.

At Monday morning's ceremony alongside the busy northbound toll lanes, Markell credited former DelDOT Secretary Carolann Wicks for getting the project quickly under way after Congress passed the stimulus bill in February 2009.

Shailen Bhatt, who took the reins at DelDOT on July 5, was on hand for Monday's festivities, but Wicks was not.

"It's got to be nice after a few weeks on to say, 'Look at how my first project went,' " Markell joked about his new DelDOT secretary.

Aside from saving people "a lot of frustration and time" waiting in line to pay the $4 toll, Carper said, the new lanes also will save motorists gas because they'll no longer be idling in traffic jams.

DelDOT officials have said the high-speed E-ZPass lanes will reduce operational costs and make the plaza safer for toll workers, who can now access all northbound booths through an overhead gantry.

The new lanes also may leave a better first impression with East Coast residents passing through, Carper said, perhaps adding momentum to his push to establish a national park in Delaware.

"We want them to say, 'I want to get off this turnpike and see what this state is all about,' " Carper said.

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