May 8, 2001

As they began their approach to their target, the Tyler McConnell Bridge consultants ran into some heavy flak. The verbal barrage was so heavy, in fact, that they turned back promising another attempt in two weeks.

William Hellmann's mission at the May 7 meeting of the Delaware Department of Transportation advisory group for the bridge project was to reduce a list of options for the bridge and its environs to manageable proportions before going to a workshop-style public hearing on June 4. Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways, opened fire when he got to a proposal which would, in effect, substitute a wide intersection at Barley Mill and Montchanin Roads for a controversial highway interchange at the location.

She argued that, no matter whether you called them through lanes, turning lanes or passing lanes, three going westbound on Barley Mill and two coming eastbound would add up to five. That would one more than the number a similar group involved with the widening of Powder Mill Road in the vicinity of Rockland Road got DelDOT down to a few years ago and one more than what the agency has committed to for  the McConnell crossing.

Earlier in the session, Charles Baker, director of the New Castle County Department of Land Use, told the meeting that he and his department did not foresee any significant commercial development in the so-called Delaware Route 141 corridor beyond the projects already approved. Moreover, he said, it appears that timing for that extensive amount of construction is slipping.

After considerable discussion, Hellmann and Robert Kramer acknowledged that, if the consultant's recommendations are taken, no proposed scenario for the intersection would call for having the road just four lanes wide. Van Gilder's contention that would be incompatible with the premise that Route 141 be a 'boulevard' between Prices Corner and Concord Pike was supported by Berta Kerr, of the Westover Woods Civic Association.

Hellmann recommended that previously discussed plans to build a complete interchange or to separate the intersecting roads while providing varying amounts of access be dropped from consideration. He did suggest that a new option calling for "a tight diamond interchange" be kept for further study. Only briefly explained at the meeting, that proposal calls for dropping narrow ramps down from an elevated Montchanin Road.

Tom Ferry, of the Alfred I. du Pont Institute, argued for retaining an option that would use a partial cloverleaf-style ramp for egress from Montchanin Road.

County Councilman Richard Abbott, who has been a strong advocate of concentrating highway improvements at the intersection in lieu of enlarging McConnell Bridge, did not participate in the discussion except to suggest that the assumption Montchanin Road would have to be elevated because of construction considerations be revisited. Lowering Barley Mill Road to go under it, he said, would eliminate aesthetic objections to a grade-separated arrangement.

Hellmann's suggestion that building a traffic circle at the intersection is not a viable option was endorsed by the advisory group as were suggestions that a variety of public transit options to carry commuters from New Castle, Newark and the Prices Corner areas to their jobs east of the Brandywine be given further study.

The group called for making a 'strong recommendation' that Wilmington Area Planning Council include proposals for light-rail or monorail service in a wider region that would include the McConnell Bridge area in its the transportation plan for now-through-2030 that it is developing, but agreed that was not practical as a more immediate option.

Hellmann said that a rail line only one or two miles long would not be economically sound. Ted Matley, executive director of the planning council, said that a monorail system of the kind that has been advocated by state Representative David Ennis is "nothing but a long-term vision." Matley said it would take at least 15 years to design and build and called that estimate conservative.

Although Kramer attempted to keep discussion of Hellmann's proposals to dealing with whether the options should be dropped or retained for the hearing rather than addressing the merits of the options, the session reached its four-hour limit and dissolved before Hellmann got to the set of options dealing with the bridge itself.

According to the outline  in a summary document distributed at the meeting, he would have recommended dropping proposals to replace the existing bridge with a new structure, doubledecking it, charging a toll for its use or restricting traffic to one direction during rush hours. That would leave as options still under consideration building a one- or two-lane bridge just south of the existing span or widening the present bridge to three, from two, lanes by encasing its piers to form wider ones or supporting the expansion on a second set of narrower piers.

Kramer said before Hellmann's presentation that an option to do nothing with the bridge or along its approaches also remains as a possibility.

Kramer told the committee that it will be expected at its May 23 meeting to decide which options to present to the public hearing and which ones to drop "no matter how long we have to stay [in session]." Following the hearing, the committee is to come up with recommendations for presentation to Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward and Governor Ruth Ann Minner for a final decision by June 30.

Baker told the meeting that the county appears to be "entering a phase where we're looking at slow steady growth" at a rate of about 1% a year. He said that Du Pont Co. and Astra Zeneca building projects appear to be moving "a little slower than what they had expected." A year ago, both companies were pressing for quick approval of their project plans because of what they then claimed was a tight timetable. Du Pont has since decided to sell the pharmaceuticals business for which the initial phase of its Experimental Station expansion was intended.

He said that is not particularly disturbing, but that it could extend the time when public infrastructure improvements, such as those contemplated for the McConnell Bridge, will be needed. "What we thought would be [required in] eight years may now be 15," he said.

The county is neither interested in influencing nor able to control the pace of development, he added. "It's their business -- something that will be determined by the market."

Major projects approved in the Route 141 corridor are: Astra Zeneca, 2 million square feet; Du Pont's Chestnut Run plant, 957,000 square feet; Du Pont Experimental Station, 823,000 square feet; Aglient Technology, 280,000 square feet and M.B.N.A. Bank, 35,000 square feet.

2001. All rights reserved.

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