March 2, 2001

Quit talking and start building, the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred told Delaware Department of Transportation as some of the imposed civility surrounding the Tyler McConnell Bridge controversy began to unravel.

DelDOT consultant Bob Kramer agreed at a public hearing on Mar. 1 that the issue of what to do about the bridge has evolved to a large extent into a east-versus-west competition with a majority of those speaking for the east of the span over the Brandywine opposing any significant changes in the status quo and those on the other side supporting expansion of the crossing.

He said he thought that about one in five of the nearly 200 people who turned out for the workshop-style airing of views "think it (the ultimate decision) is a done deal," but the other four were there in the belief their views would count in the final determination. "That is a very unscientific analysis" of public opinion, he added.

Brandywine Council, however, left no uncertainty about its stance.

"Build a four-lane bridge, with any reasonable alternative modal features, and build it now. Past inaction has shown the folly of waiting too long," the umbrella civic organization, which claims an affiliation of more than 125 community associations, said in a public-position resolution enacted by its executive committee.

"New Castle County residents are needlessly inconvenienced by the bottleneck created on [Delaware Route] 141.  Completing this roadway will benefit all and, once accomplished, the naysayers will surely be grateful for the improvement."

Meanwhile, Care 141 and the Committee of 100 had at each other.

In a statement, the former accused the latter of deliberately misrepresenting its view concerning a compromise approach which would combine a somewhat expanded bridge -- from two to three lanes -- with special provision for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and, possibly, an innovative public transit system using a monorail.

As previously reported by Delaforum, state Representative David Ennis advocated that approach at the most recent meeting of the advisory committee, of which he is not a member. His monorail idea was topic of one of several large panels on display at the hearing. In a Delaforum interview, Ennis had accused DelDOT and its consultants of not giving serious attention to it.

"Care 141 supports DelDOT's recommendations that multiple solutions, including various forms of transit, are needed to solve congestion along the [Route 141] corridor in the long term. ... Care 141 believes that all the objectives can be met, without delay, while still maintaining the community and historic character of the area as well as meeting the needs of commuters, Astra Zeneca, Du Pont and other Route 141 businesses," that organization's statement said.

Beverly Baxter, executive director of the Committee of 100, said the Care 141 people didn't read the item in the her committee's newsletter which raised the hackles very carefully. Care 141 was not mentioned. She said the reference to an "outspoken contingent within the Greenville community which does not want any expansion of the bridge" was directed toward County Councilman Richard Abbott and those on the DelDOT advisory group who agree with his positiom. She did not identify the other people. Gail Van Gilder distributed a small number of copies of the Care 141 statement at the hearing.

Abbott, whose Third Council District includes Greenville, has advocated improvements to the intersection of Barley Mill and Montchanin Roads and other 'interim measures' to relieve congestion pressure on the bridge before undertaking expansion that he claims would only invite heavier traffic volume.

Care 141 describes itself as "a coalition of communities from Carillon Crossing to Woodland Heights, institutions, nonprofits and organizations including the Kennett Pike Association." The Committee of 100 is a trade organization representing developers and related and business interest.

Until now, political,  civic and business persons seem to have been able to hold emotions in check and to abide by DelDOT-imposed rules of conduct -- not unlike those articulated on the opening day of elementary school --  while participating since last September as members of an advisory group in extended discussions proceeding in carefully measured steps toward consideration of specific options for the bridge.

It was those options which were the topic of the Mar. 1 hearing. Attenders were asked to fill out survey forms expressing preferences and other views.

Bill Hellman, also a DelDOT consultant, said the only idea not previously on the table that he had picked up at the session was to suspend a walkway for pedestrians and cyclists below the roadway. Whether or not that would involve a new wider roadway or the present two-lane one was not certain.

Carolann Wicks, DelDOT's assistant chief engineer and director of the McConnell Bridge project, said all the public comments will be transcribed and presented to the advisory committee at its next meeting, on Mar. 26. The timetable presumably still in force calls for the group to come up with recommendations in May.

From the beginning, DelDOT has been accused of using the advisory committee and public hearing mechanism as a way to delay coming to grips with the controversial and highly emotional issue. It was said that former Governor Thomas Carper did not want it boiling while he was seeking election to the U.S. Senate.

Wicks said turnout for the hearing was "on the high side" for such an event. "We're getting good comments. People seem happy with the clarity of information we've provided, but we won't know if we've gotten any more [alternative proposals] until we've had a chance to digest the ideas," she said.

The Brandywine Council statement noted the need for highway links between Brandywine Hundred and the rest of New Castle County and said that "the failure of [Route] 141 and growth of local traffic [have] already irretrievably and negatively impacted the Brandywine Valley."

Failure to relieve congestion on arterial Route 141 ultimately will give rise to calls for expanding capacity of the already impacted "narrow winding rural roads of the Valley," the statement predicts. "Obviously, it would be desirable to keep the traffic on the main roads and preserve these rural roads for as long as possible," it said.

The tone of the Brandywine Council statement appears to indicate agreement among members of the organization's executive committee on its contents. Although the council advocates open government, it usually sets policy out of the public view at closed-door meeting of its executive committee so there is no way to accurately gauge member sentiment or the degree of individual support a resolution has. As a private organization, the council, although dealing with public matters, is not covered by the state's open meeting law.

The Care 141 statement said the Committee of 100 newsletter inaccurately portrayed its position as favoring "expansion of pedestrian, bicycle, bus and train commuting to the exclusion of the bridge." On the contrary, Care 141 said, it "recognizes that the ultimate solution ... will most likely be the expansion of the crossing of the Brandywine."

"The Committee of 100 seems to have already concluded that the only solution is an expanded bridge -- to be built now ... regardless of any other options that might be viable," the Care 141 statement said. "One way to accomplish their goal is to paint any other options or conclusions as the product of a disgruntled core group of residents against everything, including Du Pont and Astra Zeneca."

The Committee of 100 article criticized those on the DelDOT advisory committee who have sought an environmental impact study. It said that would delay bridge expansion by as much as two years. That and other moves, it claimed, amount to "raising one issue after another in an attempt to stall the project if they can't stop it until something -- perhaps a slowing economy that cuts transportation [financing] -- causes it to be sidetracked."

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred's statement
Read previous story: Ennis: Monorail isn't pie-in-the-sky
Read previous story: McConnell monorail proposed
Go to the Tyler McConnell Bridge project Web site

Register your views in Delaforum polls concerning the Tyler McConnell Bridge options.





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