July 24, 2001

No one doubted the outcome, the basic issues having been resolved more than a month earlier. But there was a sense of accomplishment when a Delaware Department of Transportation advisory committee representing diverse interests formally voted unanimously on July 23 to recommend construction of a parallel two-lane span next to the Tyler McConnell Bridge.

The recommendations are non-binding in the sense that Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward and eventually Governor Ruth Ann Minner will make the final decision and can accept, modify or reject any or all of them. But having spent nearly a year and approximately $650,000 on the advisory process DelDOT expects the committee's 14-page report to end up as the major component of a conceptual blueprint for the project, which has been the nub of public controversy for several years.

As previously decided and reported by Delaforum, key points in the report call for:

  • A second bridge, to bring the Brandywine crossing to four lanes and eliminate a rush hour traffic bottleneck in front of the Du Pont Experimental Station by making all of Delaware Route 141, between just outside New Castle and Brandywine Hundred, at least that width.

  • Improving somewhat the intersection of Barley Mill and Montchanin Roads, but not constructing an interchange there nor significantly widening it.

  • Establishing a first-of-its-kind 'oversight group' to determine when the expected increase in traffic volume warrants actually building the new bridge.

  • Attempting to divert a significant amount of highway users to public transit by establishing four new Delaware Transit bus routes to give commuters living east and south of the sites an option for reaching their jobs, primarily at Du Pont, Astra Zeneca and the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children.

The vote of the 38-member advisory committee was 30 in favor, including three who voted by signed proxy; one abstention; and seven absent. Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways, said she did not vote because she wanted to seek the opinion of her board of directors but indicated that she was supportive of the report. Under committee groundrules, a 75% majority vote was required for approval of any motion, including the final decision.

In declaring the issue resolved, Robert Kramer, of Rummel, Klepper & Kahl, the consulting engineering firm out of Baltimore that DelDOT has hired for the project, told the committee that other interested parties and  individuals "are still free to make their views known," but that, in the advisory process, "you forced us to come up with a plan that is much better than we would have [without it]."

Although the committee now stands adjourned sine die, Kramer noted that "all this is just a paper report which requires your continued support" if it is to become reality. Committee members will be kept informed as the approval, design and construction processes proceed, he said.

Still to be officially heard from under Federal Highway Administration road-building guidelines is a 'Section 106' committee, which has been viewing the project from the esthetic, environmental and historic preservation points of view. Kramer's colleague, William Hellmann, told the advisory committee that the state Historic Preservation Office still favors not building another bridge or, if one is built, that it be only one lane wide, bringing the crossing to three lanes.

Another key point in its position, he said, is that it wants the 'trigger' for construction to "provide enough time for multi-modal efforts (primary increased transit service) to be in place and to reach their full potential before providing additional [bridge] capacity."

'Section 106' refers to the section of the federal Historic Preservation Act which authorizes that panel. Unlike the advisory committee, its meetings have been unannounced and conducted out of public view. It was not made clear how much weight its recommendations will have in the Hayward-Minner decision, which could come as soon as the end of summer.

Actually, the advisory committee's report still has a large gap. The committee has been unable to resolve the issue of whether there should be a protected path for bicyclists and pedestrians on the bridge. Hellmann said, "We don't have enough information [yet]  to make that decision." The consulting firm is to study the matter and poll committee members on a draft insertion to the report covering it.

Robert Valihura, president of Delaware Greenways, in a letter to Hayward withdrew a suggestion that an alternate path be constructed to link the Alapocas Greenway and Barley Mill Road or Kennett Pike by mostly following the abandoned Kentmere Branch railroad right-of-way. That alternative had been suggested by Van Gilder on behalf of Greenways but Valihura said further consideration led to the conclusion that it would not serve commuters in the way that a bicycle-pedestrian path on the bridge would.

The advisory committee at a previous meeting was unable to muster the necessary majority to either approve or reject a path on the bridge. The recommendations, however, include providing roadway shoulders that would supposedly be wide enough for cyclists or walkers. A few -- very few -- of them now use the present span.

Van Gilder said Greenways will "still pursue" the railroad route proposal apart from the Tyler McConnell project. Valihura also is a state representative. A greenway on a similar abandoned right-of-way in Brandywine Park has just been completed and another is contemplated along another one between the Christina Riverfront in Wilmington and New Castle.

Chris McEvilly, a Greenways board member, brought to the advisory panel meeting a set of photographs of bicycle-pedestrian paths constructed on separate supports underneath bridges in San Antonio, Tex., and Richmond, Va., and said that would work with Tyler McConnell. During the meeting, however, Beverly Baxter, of the Committee of 100, a business development organization, said that commuters who ride bicycles would be unlikely to navigate the steep slopes that would be necessary to access the separate span in lieu of simply riding across the highway bridge.

Another hangup is how to continue the path along the steep Powder Mill Road slope bordering the Experimental Station. Hellmann said it would require separation walls on either side. Michael Hewitt, Du Pont's representative on the advisory committee, objected to that on the grounds it would be unsafe and that "someone will get hurt [coming down the slope] and most likely it will be a Du Pont employee."

It was agreed that the Rummel, Klepper & Kahl would look into the pros and cons of a path "on, under or near" the McConnell span.

Another last-minute proposal made it into the recommendations without difficulty. That calls for erecting a six-foot-high stone wall between Barley Mill Road and Old Barley Mill Road to screen residences there and provide a more formal approach to Hagley Museum. The committee approved that insertion unanimously.

Best guess now is that the second bridge will be needed and built around 2005 or 2006. It most likely will be within a few feet south, or downstream, of the present one and look pretty much like it except that it will be supported by five, rather than 11 piers.

It previously was estimated that the parallel bridge will cost $11.3 million. Providing a separate bicycle-pedestrian path on it would add about $3.7 million to the cost.

Design work would begin soon after the final decision. The recommended 'oversight group' would advise the transportation secretary and governor when the new bridge would be needed, based on semi-annual monitoring of traffic at the site and on roads within a wide radius.

2001. All rights reserved.

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Read previous story: Group opts for four-lane McConnell crossing  
Go to the Tyler McConnell Bridge project Web site
See what the Tyler McConnell Bridge looks like at this moment





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