February 23, 2001

Five to 10 years from now, not only could the Wilmington metropolitan area have a 21st Century mass transit system but Delaware could be the first state with a fully integrated state-of-the-art public transportation network, according to a state legislator who has been advocating such for the past decade.

State Representative David Ennis told Delaforum that all that is required is for transportation people to set aside some hide-bound thinking at take a serious look at some existing technology with proven results.

"Instead of telling us it isn't going to work, they should give it a fair shot. ... The trouble is that DelDOT doesn't have the mindset to begin thinking outside the box," he said.

His idea is to link a monorail arcing across Brandywine and Christiana Hundreds to a 

commuter-type light-rail operation along the existing freight railroad right-of-way serving at least Kent and possibly Sussex County communities. Meanwhile, he would re-establish waterborne transit using high-speed passenger ferries plying between Philadelphia, Fox Point, Dover (by way of a monorail from Port Mahan) and Lewes.

Ennis said he is "angry and disappointed" that officialdom and others "keep dismissing [the proposal] as something that's visionary and impractical."

A recent example of that was reaction to a presentation he made to the public advisory group considering what to do about expanding the Tyler McConnell Bridge. Immediately after he spoke, a Delaware

David Ennis

Department of Transportation consultant referred blithely to the idea as something that might be considered some time in the indefinite future. 

"It's something that can be done right now. The first [planning and design] phase could be accomplished by 2005 and we could see something in place during the 2005-to-2010 time frame," he told Delaforum.

Voters in Seattle, Wash., authorized a study leading to a monorail system in a referendum held during last year's general election. Las Vegas, Nev., and Indianapolis, Ind., are going to building privately-financed monorails. Morgantown, W.Va., has one in place. Ennis noted that other communities, both in this country and Europe, consider monorail transportation an efficient and environmentally acceptable way to move people from place to place.

"We've proven that, whenever you build more [highway] lanes they just fill us with cars. Nobody ends up going any faster and all we do is create more smog," he said.

Putting a monorail on a new Tyler McConnell Bridge, for instance, would make it practical to have it as a three-lane span instead of four, thereby at least theoretically cutting motorized traffic using the crossing by about 25%.

Ennis said the 'ozone crisis' that New Castle County and other Northeast Corridor locales face should provide the impetus for seeking not just more buses and carpools but an exponential leap in conveying people in blocs rather and individually.

"With the Clean Air Act [requirements] we face and the threat that holds, I think the momentum is building," he said. Because it has the biggest stake in avoiding a situation that would hamper not only growth but current operations, he said the business community is likely to provide the best ally in furthering his proposal. It also ties in with state and county economic development efforts.

"What I want is a full public discussion. I want the public to tell us what they want," he said.

As a basis for that, Ennis, state Senator Harris McDowell, Representative Nancy Wagner and Roy Klein, a Dover-area transportation activist, have issued what they call a 'talking document' on the issue.

While acknowledging that constructing a monorail and adapting the existing railroad corridor to a transit system would not be cheap, Ennis maintained that it would have a benefit-to-cost ratio comparable, if not better than, more traditional approaches.

The study phase, in particular, could be accomplished for an amount actually less than is being spent on the McConnell Bridge issue, when consultant fees, full-color booklets, several meetings and committee meals are included, he said. 

"They're spending who knows how much deciding something that, for the most part, is already decided. Jakes Associates is willing to come here and share what they know for just expenses," he said. Jakes is a consulting firm involved with Indianapolis and Las Vegas projects.

2001. All rights reserved.

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Read previous story: McConnell monorail proposed

Read legislators' 'Talking document on innovative transportation opportunities ...'

Read about monorails.

Read about what's happening with monorail development





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