voted in favor of recommending only relatively minor
improvements to the Barley Mill-Montchanin Roads intersection
and the western approach to the bridge, and called for building
a bicycle and pedestrian greenway atop what is left of a
long-abandoned railroad line along the south bank of the
Brandywine in lieu of mingling recreational cyclists and hikers
with traffic on the high-level McConnell crossing.
parallel two-lane span -- which consultant William Hellmann said
would rise just one foot south of the present bridge -- was
chosen as preferable to a new one-lane span which, it was
agreed, eventually would have to be doubled in width anyway. The
choice decided upon will cost an estimated $11.3 million.
committee still has to reassemble in July to formally endorse
the report containing its recommendations, but a series of votes
taken at its meeting on June 18 represented landmark decisions. For
all intents and purposes, they resolved a sometimes bitter
controversy which has raged for the better part of a decade. The
compromise solution, forced to a large degree by planned
expansions by the Du Pont Co. and Astra Zeneca Plc., was forged
by nearly a year's worth of advisory committee deliberation.
virtually all public works tend to be controversial, this was
more so because the crossing lies literally in the midst of
commercial, historic, environmental, scenic and residential
entities that are more concentrated than anywhere else not only
in the state but in the region.
of Transportation Nathan Hayward and Governor Ruth Ann Minner
will make the final decision on the bridge and its approaches.
There is no required or suggested deadline for them to do so but
observers believe that it will come by late summer or early
autumn. Delaware Department of Transportation's long-range
capital budget already includes money to move ahead with the
Castle County Councilman Richard Abbott -- who represents the
area and who initially advocated putting off bridge
construction to see if reducing traffic congestion by replacing
the nearby Montchanin Road intersection with an interchange
would be sufficient -- expressed satisfaction with the advisory
committee's action. "That's fine," he told Delaforum. "It
clearly was what the public was in favor of. In the end, the
claimed vindication in having helped spark a thorough, if often
minute, examination of options and establishment of a
blue-ribbon panel of gubernatorial appointees to, in effect,
determine the construction timetable. "My position all along has
been not to build a bridge before it was needed. That's what the
[advisory] group decided tonight," he said.
ironically, Abbott arrived at the session just after the key
vote was taken. He said that was the result of another
obligation and indicated that he would have cast his lot with
the 'supermajority' had he been there. It was at Abbott's
insistence early on in the process that a 75% majority, deemed
to be a consensus of sorts, was necessary for the group to
Hazelton, of Preservation Delaware, abstained from voting,
announcing that the organization she represents did not yet have
sufficient information about effects of bridge building to take
a position. Robert Kramer, of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, the
consulting engineering firm out of Baltimore that DelDOT has
hired for the project, told the advisory committee that the
state's official historic resources group favors the so-called
'no-build' option for the bridge and its approaches.
advisory committee disposed of both that notion and the idea of
an interchange at the Barley Mill-Montchanin Roads location in
short order. Both ideas apparently do not sit well with the
general public, judging by comments registered at a
workshop-style hearing in early June. McConnell Bridge is the
only two-lane stretch in the eight-mile State Route 141 corridor
between Interstate 95 and Concord Pike.
potential sticking point was resolved a few hours before the
advisory committee meeting when the consultants not only agreed
with but also agreed to heartedly recommend adoption of a plan
put forth by Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways. Instead of
including a bicycle lane on the McConnell Bridge, the state
would pay for a greenway along the right of way of the abandoned
Kentmere branch of the former Reading Railroad between the
terminus of the already approved path coming down from the Blue
Ball area to the Brandywine at Alpacas Wood and Kennett Pike at
the county police Westover Hills substation.
that route, Hellmann said, would be "a lot better than riding
side-by-side with traffic on a busy highway."
Gilder said that the greenway would be intended for recreational
bikers and not people who commute to work on two wheels. There
would still be sufficient shoulder on the bridge to accommodate
advisory committee, however, balked at recommending that the
parallel span include a bike lane as a fall-back position in the
event legal considerations or some other obstacle prevented
construction of the creekside path. Right after that, the 75%
rule also prevented their taking a stand specifically opposed to
putting a bike lane on the bridge.
loose end was the size of the panel that would flash a green
light to start the actual construction, which is expected to
take about two years. The consultants recommended seven as a
more practical arrangement than putting the loquacious 37-member
advisory committee in charge of that signal. It was decided by
the committee, however, to leave the size of the panel up to the
secretary of transportation and its composition to the governor
as the appointing authority. As finally approved after
discussion, the recommendation is for the new panel to be
representative of various interests affected by the project.
said the professional team on the bridge project estimates that
a three-lane crossing will be needed in 2005 or 2006 and four
lanes around 2012. "That's our projection -- but who believes
projections?" he remarked.
imposition of a panel, he explained, the actual timetable
becomes a matter of the transportation secretary making "an
informed decision" based on continuous monitoring of the traffic
situation not only on Barley Mill Road and the bridge but also
other roads in the vicinity. He said the actual timing most
likely would coincide with the state's budget cycle, which calls
for gathering data around November, recommending action around
February and General Assembly action in June.
member Garrett Copeland said he was satisfied that the procedure
would prevent "a hasty decision to build a bridge and
intersection that's only needed for four hours a day."
the bridge also would take about two years and could start as
early as in the coming fiscal year, which begins on July
said that in accepting the alternative greenway-bike path
arrangement and dropping a previously recommended complex
'trigger' formula for beginning construction, the consultants
demonstrated responsiveness to the committee and the public.
"You have forced us to do better thinking," he said.
demonstrated in the session its willingness to go along with
some fancy footwork.
committee rejected, for lack of a 75% majority, a
consultant-recommended plan for the westside approach to the
bridge that included keeping the present arrangement of two
travel lanes in each direction, a semi-circular turn from
southbound Montchanin Road onto westbound Barley Mill, a 20
foot-wide landscaped median in Barley Mill and a berm to block
the view from three residences along Old Barley Mill Road of the
main road, which necessarily will have to be widened to four
lanes at that point to provide access to the parallel bridge.
the committee took apart the plan and, in separate votes,
approved all but the berms and decided to combine short- and
long-term improvements. In doing so, however, it called for
providing some form of effective mitigation from the effects of
the project during its design phase.
DelDOT official Marc Coté told the
group that consideration also will be given to having overhead
utility lines in the project area placed underground rather than
simply moved. Because that is not normal practice and utility
companies -- specifically Conectiv Power in this case -- object
to taking that more expensive alternative voluntarily, that
probably would cost the state about $1.75 million, he said.