Ultimate design for the
most-talked-about highway project in Delaware history apparently
is still as much up in the air as the high-level crossing of the
Brandywine. The only thing certain is that they're still
A panel of 25 individuals and
representatives of affected businesses and organizations,
referred to collectively as 'stakeholders' and officially as
'Section 106 Parties', convened for the 18th time on Oct. 20 to
discuss five options for the bridge, with four alternatives for
one of them, and two options to accommodate walkers and
'Section 106' refers to the section
of the federal law governing public projects which requires that
environmental, historical and cultural consequences receive full
consideration before Uncle Sam signs off helping to pay for the
Asked why the panel was still
discussing options for the bridge when the state's chief highway
official, with the stated approval of the governor, had made
what appeared to be a final design decision and declared
willingness to have the state finance the full cost, Bill
Hillmann, Delaware Department of Transportation's lead
consultant on the project, told Delaforum that it was necessary
to complete the public participation process against the
possibility, no matter how remote, of federal support.
"We have to go through the process
under federal requirements," said DelDOT project director Marc
was unable to reach Hayward for comment as this article was
being prepared. But DelDOT spokesman Mike Williams, in response
to an inquiry, said:
"The department position
is that the department has a preferred alternative and that is
to build a new four-lane bridge that is context sensitive to the
valley. We are proceeding with trying to get federal dollars
approved for the construction of the preferred alternative
bridge. If we are unable to use federal dollars for the
construction of the new four-lane bridge, we can use state
contained in an elaborate comparison of all aspects of the
project distributed at the 'Section 106' meeting listed total
cost of a modification of the design Hayward advocated back in
January, which now seems to be his and DelDOT's favored
alternative, of between $37.5 million and $39 million, depending
on the placement of a companion pedestrian and bicycle path.
Hayward's January preference would cost between $38.5 million
and $40 million. Cost of a parallel span is said to range
between $24.5 million and $27 million.
disparity would be reduced over the expected 100-year life of
the new bridge by the anticipated necessity of having to replace
the existing structure when its time expires a half-century from
now, according to the estimates, which use current cost figures
and dollar values.
no estimate given for what portion of the cost would be picked
up by the federal government. Williams said, however, that if
the state does not get any federal money for the McConnell
Bridge project, money in Delaware's annual transportation
allotment not used for the bridge can be applied to other DelDOT
lose any money; the money just gets exchanged between 'pots',"
The options before the 'Section 106'
panel are: (1.) a parallel span with steel girders; (2.) a
parallel bridge with concrete block girders; (3.) a replacement
bridge with concrete girders; (4.) a replacement bridge with
elliptical arches; or (5.) a replacement bridge with parabolic
arches. The first four were presented at the January public
'workshop' with the fourth having been previously announced as
Hayward's preference. The fifth option was said to have been
developed by DelDOT's design consultants in response to comments
received at the 'workshop'. It was originally presented to the
panel at a meeting on May 2, but not made public. It does not
appear on the project Web site.
The Oct. 20 session was the first
"Section 106" meeting about which Delaforum was notified,
despite repeated requests in the past to be advised of their
scheduling, The panel is a public body, as described in
Delaware's open-meeting law, whose gatherings are required to be
announced to and accessible by the public.
Tone of the discussion and detailed
minutes of the May session, contained in the briefing book at
this one, indicated that panel is nowhere near to reaching a
consensus as public presentations by Hayward and at a Delaware
Department of Transportation 'workshop' back in January seemed
The minutes reveal considerable
disputation of points Hayward reportedly made at the May
meeting. His contention that, if there were no existing bridge,
now building one at that location, rather than somewhere else,
would be necessary. Mary Jane Elliott, of Preservation Delaware,
reportedly disagreed with the DelDOT "assumption" that traffic
volume justified expanding the present bridge's capacity and
said she still favored not to build any bridge there.
In another context, Hellmann told the
Oct. 20 meeting that "the no-build option is off the table."
After more than a year of
deliberation a DelDOT 'working group', which included a broader
range of civic and political participants than the 'Section 106'
panel, recommended putting up a parallel two-lane pier-supported
span next to the existing one. Hayward and Governor Ruth Ann
Minner had previously accepted that recommendation, but changed
their minds after what Hayward in January described as "further
There have been objections raised to
replacing the existing bridge, which was built in 1952, with a
new one because the existing one is said to have historical
attributes. Its supporting piers are described as an early
example of the use of concrete piers with a hammerhead
configuration in highway bridge construction. Hayward, however,
"There is nothing unique about those piers; they were put there
because they were cheap and fast."
existing bridge is deemed eligible for inclusion on the national
historical register although it is not listed there now.
Don Klima, director of the Office of
Federal Agency Programs, appeared at the 'Section 106' meeting
to reiterate a threat made in a letter included in the briefing
book that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would
decide the issue if the local group "cannot bring [it] to
closure." In his oral presentation, he compared the bridge
project with one to provide additional security for the
Washington Monument in the nation's capital, noting that some
compromises in appearance and setting of landmarks have to be
accepted to accomplish what is generally recognized as an
He acknowledged that, when referring
to Hagley Museum "we're talking about a property that is
world-class." Hayward said in January that building a bridge
supported by architecturally esthetic arches, rather than piers,
was essential to the visual integrity of Hagley Museum and the
rest of the Henry Clay valley. As Delaforum previously reported,
he later acknowledged that objection to it by Hagley officials
was a key reason for his rejecting the proposal for a parallel
The panel was told that Federal
Highway Administration officials, during a meeting with the
'project team' in August, asked for alternatives to the
concrete-pier option to address what was described as the
"adverse visual impact" on Hagley. Linda Figg, of Figg
Engineering, presented four possible ways to cover the concrete
piers supporting both the existing bridge and a parallel one
with a stone casing or veneer matching the construction material
used in the vicinity.
Although neither she, Hellmann nor
Tom Myers, of the Federal Highway Administration's Dover office,
said so, but the context of the presentation clearly indicated
that the first option may be the federal agency's preference. It
will make the determination about whether federal money is
provided for the project.
Daniel Muir, the museum's deputy
director, said covering the piers "does not address the problem"
nor alter Hagley's objections to building a parallel span. "The
adveerse impact is not [the piers'] appearance. It's their bulk
and the fact they are there," he said.
Elliott suggested that Hagley
consider relocating its main entrance, which is literally
in the shadow of the existing bridge. Muir replied that the iron
gate used as the entrance has been there since 1906 and said
that the foundation that is Hagley's parent organization, does
not own the land surrounding the museum and Eleutherian Library.
Howeverr, he added that there currently is a study being done to
determine "how best to use our land."
Options for the foot- and bicycle
path are to place it either on the bridge, as a fifth lane on a
new bridge or a third lane of a parallel span, or run it down
the steep embankment on the east side of the Brandywine and
cross the stream on a separate bridge underneath the highway
bridge and just above the water.
"It is important that this project
not only move cars but be multi-modal," Gail Van Gilder, of
Delaware Greenways, said. The reason no one now walks to work at
the Du Pont Experimental Station and few commute by bicycle "is
because [they] don't have the ability to do so," she added.