News

January 8, 2004

Federal highway officials are almost certain to refuse financial support for any plan which calls for taking down the present Tyler McConnell Bridge no matter how popular that idea might be, one of them told the committee still debating the impact of increasing capacity of the span on Hagley Museum and other historic assets in that part of the Brandywine Valley.

Robert Kleinburd's admonition was the strongest confirmation yet of what Secretary of Transportation Nathan Hayward said nearly a year ago might happen if a new four-lane bridge supported by graceful arches is to be built instead of an adjacent two-lane bridge of similar design next to the existing one.

Hayward said at that time that he and Governor Ruth Ann Minner were willing to pay for the project, which could cost up to $40 million, entirely with state money in order to end up with a better-looking structure. He and other Delaware Department of Transportation officials later said that it would be possible to shuffle Delaware's allotment of federal highway money in such a way as to avoid a net 'loss' of any of it as a result of such a decision.

The Federal Highway Administration is bound by law "to reject participation in any project [in

which] an existing structurally-sound historic structure is demolished," Kleinburd said at a meeting of 'Section 106 consulting parties' on Jan. 7.  He is the highway administration's Dover-based environmental program manager.

That view was supported by Mary Ann Naber, a preservation officer from the highway administration's Washington headquarters, who said that DelDOT's attempt to justify tearing down the excising bridge on the grounds that, in effect, would be the lesser of two evils does not satisfy a requirement in the federal historic preservation law that the state agency provide an objective assessment of the project's adverse effects on historic properties.

The present bridge, which was built in 1952, has been declared eligible for listing, but is not actually listed, on the National Register of Historic Structures as the oldest example of the use of hammerhead piers

Wicks: No bridge work being done

DelDOT is doing no more construction on the approach to Tyler McConnell Bridge beyond what is needed to rebuild the intersection of Barley Mill and Montchanin Roads, according to chief engineer Carolann Wicks.

Acknowledging that it might appear that work on the down slope of Barley Mill Road is skewed toward a new four-lane bridge, Wicks told Delaforum that it was designed to provide room for a turn lane to serve Old Barley Mill Road, which leads down to the Hagley Museum and Henry Clay village.

"We would be foolish to build it [in a way] that future construction would require it to be torn out, but I assure you that everything being done is related to the [intersection] project and nothing else.," she said.

to support a highway bridge in Delaware. Hagley is part of the Eleutherian Mills National Historic Landmark District, which encompasses the site of the original Du Pont powder mills, dating back to 1802.

In an extensive written position statement distributed at the meeting, DelDOT argues that building an adjacent bridge would increase the visual harm done to the mills site by the existing bridge. "If that is what 'Section 106' requires, then the law has truly been turned upside down and now requires us to preserve exactly the type of bridge that the law was intended to prevent from being built in the first place," the statement declares. 'Section 106' refers to a provision in the historic preservation law.

Although he said he did not believe that argument would fly, Kleinburd offered to try to have his superiors in Washington issue a preliminary advisory opinion if DelDOT submits an official request based on a tentative decision to propose its new-bridge option and asks for advice to guide it in coming up with a final decision.

His and Naber's comments touched off an acrimonious response from Bill Hellmann, Delaware Department of Transportation's lead consultant on the McConnell Bridge project.

What kind of bridge to build "is a DelDOT decision, not a Federal Highway Administration decision," he said. "After the [administration] acts, there are other options."

Further discussion, he maintained, would be pointless. "I don't think we need to spend another $3 million to generate additional information. ... I have been doing this for 40 years and have never seen a project that has provided so much information," he said. "Everybody has already reached an opinion about what they feel about this project. ... I don't think [more information] is going to change any opinions."

A tabulation of opinions from the 15 of the 25 'consulting parties' who responded to a request to submit them in writing which was distributed at the meeting on Jan. 7 found that eight of them agree with DelDOT's preference among five pending options -- a replacement bridge with parabolic arches. One other supports a different form of arch support and three want a new four-lane bridge with concrete construction.

Possibly more significant were the non-responders -- the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Delaware, New Castle County and the Du Pont Co.

Daniel Griffith, director of the historic preservation office, rejected all the options, saying "Any alternative beyond 'no build' has the potential to adversely affect historic properties." He maintained that DelDOT had not "fully demonstrated" that the existing bridge does not have sufficient traffic capacity.

Because Hellmann had said at the previous meeting that not building a bridge was no longer an option, Griffith said his preference in that case would be an adjacent two-lane span. He was the only responder who went for that option, although it was the one previously recommended by a large DelDOT public advisory group which considered the project for 18 months.

After Griffith said during discussion at the meeting that he felt Hayward had already made up his and DelDOT's collective minds, Hellmann denied that a final decision has been made. "There is no question that the secretary is leaning in that direction," he said, but added that the department will still adhere to its obligation to "weigh all comments before coming to a final decision."

When that is done, he added, the decision will be presented at a public hearing and then the necessary documentation will be submitted to the highway administration. Hellmann did not give a timetable for that to happen and said he was unable to say whether Kleinburd will be taken up on his offer.

Questioned by Delaforum after the previous 'Section 106' meeting, Hayward said he would like to see the panel reach a consensus, but left no doubt that the only consensus he is likely to accept would not go much beyond modifying his vision for a four-lane bridge. The DelDOT position statement ended with the comment: "DelDOT firmly believes that the construction of a new four-lane bridge with a context-sensitive design is the right thing to do."

Considerably stronger in its criticism of DelDOT was the opinion response from Mary Jane Elliott, Delaware advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She accused the department of providing "misinformation" about the project to the public.

"DelDOT has withheld information on [financing] and not allowed the public to make an informed and educated decision. Without communicating with the public and never revealing to the media and public that these options will trigger ... possible loss of federal transportation [money] for the project, the DelDOT process becomes very questionable," she wrote.

[Delaforum initially reported on the possible, or likely, loss of federal support in January, 2003, and has done so in subsequent articles.]

She, too, favored not building a bridge and said that congestion on the existing bridge is caused by poor control at the intersection of Barley Mill Road with Powder Mill and New Bridge Roads at the entrance to the Du Pont Experimental Station at its eastern end. She said that putting a traffic circle there would solve the problem of "20 minutes in the morning and evening of congestion."

She wrote that she also has "concern for the rare plant gallium lanceolatum and for the federally threatened [sic] bog turtle" that would be endangered by building any kind of new bridge.

Although denying that Elliot has standing to represent the National Trust in the 'Section 106' process, DelDOT chief engineer Carolann Wicks sent a 22-page response to Elliot, which was distributed at the meeting. Elliot did not attend the meeting.

Joan Hazelton, of Preservation Delaware, said at the meeting that the DelDOT preferred option has never been presented to the public and is predicated "on the assumption that the [present] bridge has an adverse effect on Hagley and has to be removed."

As Delaforum previously reported, DelDOT has described the parabolic arches option as one developed from comments about the other four-lane bridge options at a 'workshop'-style public hearing.

Hazelton's organization did not submit an opinion, however, claiming that its board of directors has so far been unable to agree upon one.

Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways, said her preference would be not to build a new bridge, but if one has to be built, a girder-supported or arched four-lane bridge would be preferable. "I don't think building another ugly bridge is going to enhance the Brandywine Valley," she said.

Daniel Muir, who represents Hagley on the panel, agreed with the DelDOT preference, but said his main concern is moving ahead with the project. "There's mounting impatience ... especially by the people who sit in stuck traffic while the [present] bridge vibrates and shakes."

He urged that a final decision be made soon -- "with or without the gentle rain of federal money."

2004. All rights reserved.

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