February 14, 2002

Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward announced agreement with a public advisory committee's recommendation to build a parallel span adjacent to the Tyler McConnell Bridge but left open the timing of the project.

Meanwhile, he said in a 'press release', design work will begin immediately looking to improve the Barley Mill-Montchanin Roads intersection. According to the release, that project will cost $10 million; it previously was estimated that the bridge project would carry a price tag of between $11 million and $13 million, in 2001 dollars.

The long-awaited decision on the future of the bridge appears to resolve a community controversy which goes back the better part of a decade. The existing two-lane bridge is the only segment of the heavily traveled state Route 141 that is not at least four lanes wide and, since the route is primarily a commuter artery, is considered a choke point at rush hour. Residents of the area, however, have long maintained that a wider span would have the effect of significantly increasing traffic and would make the route especially attractive to through-truck traffic.

Route 141 between Prices Corner and Fairfax carries more than 37,000 vehicles a day along roadways that have a mixture of limited and unlimited access. East of Prices Corner, the route is a freeway. At one time, the entire route was planned as a western alternative to Interstate 95 around the city of Wilmington. Public opposition blocked that, leaving the freeway to end abruptly after crossing Kirkwood Highway. Some advisory committee members used the term 'boulevard' to refer to the portion of the route in the vicinity of the McConnell Bridge.

The 38-member advisory committee, which included representation from the community, businesses and public and private interests and met regularly for nearly a year, reached a compromise of sort when it recommended last July that a parallel two-lane span be built, but not until traffic counts indicated it was needed. Hayward went along with that, announcing that Delaware Department of Transportation would "begin comprehensive traffic counts ... every six months" and a five-person panel would be appointed "to help the department decide on the appropriate timing for the new bridge construction."

DelDOT's consultants on the project estimated last summer that the present bridge would reach its traffic-handling capacity in 2005 or 2006.

Hayward seems to have deviated from the advisory committee's recommendation in one respect, noting that "future bridge improvements will include plans for bicycle and pedestrian access." The committee chose the bridge alternative which did not include a bicycle and pedestrian lane on the grounds that it would have nothing to link to on either side of the span. The release was not clear whether 'future bridge improvements' referred to construction of the parallel span or to improvements after that is done.

It did say that DelDOT will cooperate with New Castle County government and the Wilmington Area Planning Council on a study "to see how best to plan for much needed transit, pedestrian, bicycle and aesthetic improvements." That study, it said. will take a year to complete.

The improvements to the Barley Mill-Montchanin Roads intersection, the release said, will include adding turning lanes to the roadways, putting utility lines underground, constructing stone walls and landscaped buffers and medians adjacent to the Hagley Museum site and linking traffic signals to the state's traffic management center in Smyrna.

It also announced that DelDOT will begin the process necessary to permanently designate 18.5 acres of mature forest adjacent to the bridge to become permanent open space. Identified as "surplus right of way" that evidently refers to property on the steep slope between the Brandywine and the ridge along which Powder Mill Road skirts the Du Pont Experimental Station.

Hayward's decision had been expected early last autumn but evidently was delayed by what the release refers to as "intense study required by state and federal environmental and historic preservation statutes." It goes on to say that design "must still be worked through a number of important resource agencies, such as the state's Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, the state's Historic Preservation Office, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and others."

2002. All rights reserved.

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