January 24, 2003

Philadelphia Pike will remain four lanes as it runs through Claymont, but the lanes will be divided by a landscaped median containing 123 trees for most of the two and a half miles between Rolling Park and the Pennsylvania border if Delaware Department of Transportation's recommended 'highway enhancement' plan is implemented.

"It will have no effect on the number of cars, but it will make them behave better," Joseph Cantalupo, DelDOT's assistant director of statewide and regional planning, told a meeting of the Claymont Business Owners Association.

Presently, a daily average of 16,600 vehicles use the pike south of its intersection with Governor Printz Boulevard and 18,100 north of there. Those volumes are projected to increase by up to 20%, depending on the success of the Claymont Renaissance redevelopment effort which is intended, among other things, to attract visitors and shoppers to the area, between now and 2025.

The plan projects an increase in 'normal' travel time between the Interstate 495 interchange and Rolling Road from three and a quarter to minutes to between three and three quarters and four and a half minutes.  That would seem to indicate a reduction in average speed from 46 m.p.h. to between 33 m.p.h. and  40 m.p.h. The present speed limit in most of the course is 35 m.p.h.

Cantalupo said the plan at this stage is intended as a conceptual one, but indicated it stands a much better than even chance of becoming reality. It "has a lot of steam behind it," he said. "We wouldn't have put in all this work if it was just going to sit around."

State Representative Greg Lavelle, whose district includes part of Claymont, pledged support for giving the projected priority and noted that Representative Wayne Smith and Senator Harris McDowell, who have Claymonters among their constituents, "have a lot more influence" as majority leaders in their respective chambers of the General Assembly.

The plan was developed over a period of more than 18 months, having started out as a proposed safety-improvement project and evolved into a key component of the Renaissance effort. It still is subject to "some tweaking" by the community advisory committee that has been working on it and in response to comments gathered at a soon-to-be-scheduled workshop-style public hearing. The business owners offered some suggestions for minor modifications which Cantalupo said will be considered.

The decision to go with a four-lane plan instead of narrowing the roadway, as some residents have proposed, was made because volume will soon "bump up against what two lanes can handle," Cantalupo said.

Choosing between those alternatives, he indicated, was the most difficult step in reaching for consensus. "We knew we couldn't satisfy everybody, [but] we think this is the best plan based on everyone's different concerns," he said. "We've listened to the community [and] we've received a lot of community support."

The presentation at the business association's meeting on Jan. 23 was the first detailed public showing of the plan.

As explained by DelDOT planning consultant Christine Wells, it calls for the highway lanes to be narrowed slightly from 12 feet to 11 feet while the highway right-of-way is widened in most places from its present 80 feet to 86 feet and eight inches to accommodate bicycle paths and sidewalks on both sides. Wider rights-of-way, up to 97 feet, will be required to put in extra turn lanes at 15 intersections, a limited amount of on-road parking and broader sidewalks in the initially proposed Renaissance area between Seminole Avenue and Darley Road.

That means DelDOT will have to take at least parts of several properties. If it does, the agency will be required to pay owners the fair market value of what is taken.

While the median is to be the pike's main feature, Wells said the plan calls for a general esthetic improvement and specific measures to address identified problems along the course. The exit ramp from southbound Interstate 495, for instance, is to be redesigned to form a 'T' with the pike to eliminate the current practice of many drivers to ignore the stop sign on the ramp's less severe meeting with the pike's southbound lanes. Clearly defined pedestrian crosswalks will be provided at major intersections with traffic signals.

No public street will be blocked although the median will block some left turns, she said. Left turns will be provided for by breaks in the median at such places as the Church of the Ascension and Archmere Academy.

There is provision for only 11 on-road parking spaces. Officials at the  Holy Rosary church and school complex, which presently is a heavy user of such parking, specifically requested that spaces not be provided there because of safety considerations.

Recessing the median to pavement level in front of the Claymont Fire Company station and providing emergency-use traffic signals there has answered concerns about easy access to the pike in both directions for fire equipment and ambulances.

She said present use of public transportation does not justify installing shelters and making other improvements except to the stop at the Darley Road intersection which is one of the most heavily used stop north of Wilmington. Because the pike will have no shoulders, buses are expected to use the bicycle path and part of the adjoining travel lane to make stops.

Questioned about the possible effect of the state's budget crisis, Cantalupo said the plan does not have to be implemented as a single project. It can be divided into smaller packages either by geographical segments or by components. Also, he said, such things as revamping the I-495 intersection and dealing with safety concerns in the school zone at Maple Avenue can be justified as separate high-priority projects.

He said it would take about two years after financing is approved to design and engineer the complete project. Actual construction could begin as soon as three years from now or could be as long as six to eight years into the future.

2003. All rights reserved.

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