August 13, 2001

Delaware Department of Transportation has agreed to play second fiddle to Claymont Renaissance's first violin. In an apparent unprecedented reversal of normal practice, the large agency reportedly has agreed to tailor its plan to improve Philadelphia Pike to fit into plans to use that road as the centerpiece of a community revitalization process.

New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner, who represents the area and has been a driving force in the Renaissance movement, disclosed an agreement with DelDOT following a private meeting of highway officials with civic representatives in his office on Aug. 9. The agreement is to be announced at a public meeting of the Claymont Community Coalition on Aug. 16, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Claymont Community Center.

"Rather than dominating and usurping the community-initiated process that was already underway in Claymont and in Fox Point, DelDOT [will] merge its safety project as a component of the community's well-developed visioning process," Weiner said.

The agreement provides "an opportunity for some really good cooperation between the community and DelDOT," said Gary Laing, municipal liaison in DelDOT's external affairs department.

As previously reported by Delaforum, a heated conflict between the DelDOT and the Renaissance steering committee broke out at a by-invitation-only convening on July 25 of what DelDOT expected to be an advisory committee to work with it on a project involving safety improvements on Philadelphia Pike between Bellevue and Naamans Road at the northern end of Claymont. The Renaissance earlier had come up with a conceptual plan which called for 'streetscaping' the pike between Perkins Run, which separates the unincorporated communities of Claymont and Holly Oak, and Darley Road.

Weiner and others objected to what they considered a 'safety-is-our-gospel' approach which they said in other cases has translated into widening and otherwise upgrading roads to permit a generally smoother and faster flow of vehicular traffic with fewer hazards. The plan calls for diverting through traffic and slowing and 'calming' the vehicles which pass through Claymont.

Work now being completed for DelDOT on Northeast Boulevard in Wilmington has been cited as an example of the type of design Claymont does not want. On the other hand, so-called context-sensitive design such as was followed in improving Kennett Pike through Greenville has been held up as an acceptable model.

Jane Scott, who represented U.S. Senator Joseph Biden at the second meeting confirmed that federal transportation policy endorses combing so-called multimodal approaches and pedestrian-oriented features into federally financed highway projects, Weiner said.

The Renaissance group will be expanded to include representation from the Fox Point area and, presumably, Holly Oak, Bellefonte and other points south of Claymont along the Philadelphia Pike corridor. Unincorporated Claymont is defined as the northeastern Brandywine Hundred area defined by the 19703 postal zip code.

Weiner said Claymonters at the earlier meeting got the impression that DelDOT considered "the community's vision for the future [to be] interesting but not really relevant."

DelDOT officials, he said, apologized at the second meeting for giving the impression of a heavy-handed approach.

The agreement reportedly reached provides for what amount to numerous concessions in the highway advisory process which has become standard on major projects. According to Weiner, it goes so far as replace designated project manager Randall Grunden and to submit its selection of Whitman, Requardt & Associates to be transportation consultant on the project to community scrutiny "to determine if we felt comfortable having them perform work for our community."

Laing said Grunden was replaced "because the scope of the project has changed." His successor has not yet been determined. The consulting firm "will be introduced to the community and [it] will have a chance to get to know them and their work" but the community will not be asked to approve or reject the firm, Laing said.

Key provision in the agreement appears to be: "Until and unless the community decides that there should be a separate DelDOT transportation subcommittee, functioning under the auspices of the Claymont Renaissance, DelDOT [will] function as part of the Claymont Renaissance regular meetings." That translates into DelDOT's agreeing to take advice not from its own advisory committee but from the Renaissance steering committee.

Completing the understanding, Weiner said, was DelDOT's agreeing to rename its project. Claymonters, who are pushing an effort to rename the road Kings Highway, objected to including reference to Philadelphia Pike. Also, the word 'safety' will be dropped, he said, because "it has negative connotations given DelDOT's past history with 'safety projects' throughout Delaware."

"I thank DelDOT for its willingness to admit mistakes and begin anew," he said. "We look forward to being cheerleaders for DelDOT's efforts once I and others are convinced that DelDOT is truly committed to [its] promises."

2001. All rights reserved.

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