While nothing is close to being
final and there is even a mathematical possibility that sticking
with the status quo could emerge as the conclusion after nearly
a year of deliberation, the advisory committee charged with
sorting the options and coming up with a recommendation for
resolving the long-running controversy over the future of the
Route 141 Brandywine crossing displayed a somewhat surprising
degree of unanimity as the viable choices were laid before it.
The group plans at least two meeting
devoted to discussing and debating those options and a
workshop-style public hearing to solicit views from a broader
right in assuming this alternative is in for a fair amount of
William Hellmann asked
cautiously at the group's Apr. 23 meeting after describing how a
new four-lane bridge might be erected at a higher elevation
straddling the existing two-lane one.
Besides having an
aesthetically unpleasing impact on the picturesque Brandywine
Valley 'viewscape' and requiring Du Pont Co. to enlarge its
exhaust stacks and move the perimeter fence at its Experimental
Station to accommodate its bulk, such a structure would trash
Delaware Department of Transportation's previous commitment to
provide a crossing having no more than four traffic lanes, he
Moving on to an
alternative which had been advanced during a previous
incarnation of the McConnell Bridge studies, Hellmann noted that
two new lanes might be swung about 25 feet above the present two
to produce only a slightly less obtrusive result, but one which
also would play havoc with Du Pont's air pollution permits. They
are granted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency based
on the present fence and exhaust alignments.
In either case, he
said, "the bridge would become the dominant feature in the
valley as opposed to the valley itself being the dominant
Moving on to a third
possibility, he said replacing the McConnell Bridge with a
four-lane crossing elsewhere along the waterway between
Interstate 95 in Wilmington and the Pennsylvania border also
seems to pose insurmountable difficulties. "The creek is just
packed with sensitive areas. No site has less impact than
putting it at the existing site," he said.
What was surprising to
an observer at that point was that Hellmann had effectively laid
eight design options -- nine if 'no build' is included -- onto
the proverbial table and, with virtually no discussion and
literally no dissent from the 36-member committee, quickly slid
three of them off.
Moreover, he had done
so after encountering the first bit of testiness to emerge
during the 10 meetings the group has held.
Hellmann bristled when
New Castle County Councilman Richard Abbott accused the
consultants of "overengineering" the options to render their
less favored ones unpalatable. "This process is designed to lead
to one inevitable conclusion," Abbott charged.
"We're friends, but I
resent that remark after all the work we've put into
[accommodating] this group," Hellmann shot back.
Abbott, whose district
includes the crossing site and who has long opposed expanding
the bridge, had objected to Hellmann's having said that limited
or no expansion would divert a significant amount of traffic to
other roads through the broader Brandywine Valley. The
councilman maintained that "as long as you keep traffic [across
the bridge] moving, people will not bail out [because] people
like to take shortcuts, not 'longcuts'."
Although replacing the
existing bridge with a new four-lane span and building another
two-lane bridge adjacent to the present one are among the
options Hellmann presented, there seemed to be a decided
prejudice among attenders at the meeting toward two options that
would result in three traffic lanes at the crossing. One would
limit the width of the adjacent bridge to one vehicular lane and
a bicycle-pedestrian path; the other would expanding the support
structure of the existing bridge sufficiently to permit widening
its roadway to fit in a third lane.
Travel direction in
the middle lane would alternate between eastbound in the morning
-- when most of the traffic consists of commuters headed to the
Experimental Station, the Astra Zeneca headquarters and research
complex and the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children -- and
westbound in the afternoon -- when the workers are going home.
The other options call
for keeping the present two lanes but restricting traffic to
moving in just one direction during the rush hours, restricting
travel on the bridge during those times to vehicles with more
than one occupant, or charging a toll.
Any of those options
would divert traffic to other roads and require installation of
signs, signals and perhaps scanning equipment to operate,
He also said it has
yet to be determined whether the present bridge can be removed
because, although it dates only from the 1960s and is strictly
functional in design, he said it is eligible for federal
protection as an historic resource.
presentation at the committee meeting, Catherine Dennis,
planning manager with Delaware Transit Corp., said the agency is
studying the possibility of inaugurating up to four bus routes
which would cross the bridge to serve the major employers on its
east side. Most likely to be first is one linking Christiana
Mall and Prices Corner with the area. The others would connect
with the New Castle area, Latina Square near Hockessin and the
There used to be a
cross-county bus route which used the McConnell Bridge but it
was dropped several years ago for lack of patronage. There
currently are bus routes on Concord Pike and Kennett Pike and
serving the Du Pont Hospital.
She said DelDOT
origin-and-destination surveys have determined that Route 141
"is predominately a commuter route" with most of the workers
using it living to the west rather than,.as has been widely
supposed, in northern Brandywine Hundred and nearby
Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, she added, bus service will become a
viable alternative for the type of people comprising the area
workforces only with "aggressive marketing and strong support
from the employers."
Kenneth Goon followed with a presentation about inaugurating
so-called light-rail service -- the modern equivalent of the old
interurban trolley car -- on the abandoned railroad right-of-way
from Barley Mill Plaza on Lancaster Pike through Westover Hills
to Rising Sun on the outskirts of Wilmington at the northern
base of the Rockford Park hill. The line could be extended, he
said, using the connecting lightly used freight railroad through
Greenville to Chadds Ford, Pa.
Also possible, he
said, would be a monorail system, such as has been proposed by
state Representative David Ennis, along Route 141. But that more
properly should be designed as a regional amenity, he added.
Goon described both
ideas as "very long range" and strictly conceptual at this
stage. They also would be vary costly.
The 1.5 mile rail
line, beginning where Ursuline Academy plans to locate athletic
fields and including a station at Kennett Pike, would require,
for instance, an initial capital investment of about $31
million. Operating and maintenance costs have not been
estimated. He said it could be expected to serve about 20 people