January 11, 2005

Wilmington Area Planning Council is recommending spending a record $1.366 billion on transportation projects in New Castle and Cecil Counties during the three fiscal years beginning July 1 and ending on June 30, 2008. Maintaining the present system would account for 43.8% of that and 25.5% would go for expanding the system.

The recommendations are contained in a voluminous catalog in a draft of the council's annual Transportation Improvement Program made public at a workshop meeting on Jan. 10. The council will accept comments from the public until Feb. 24 and establish priorities before submitting the recommendations to the Delaware and Maryland transportation departments.

Tigist Zegeye, the council's executive director, said the plan is advisory and it is up to the departments to schedule the work and the respective legislatures and the Federal Highway Administration to finance

them. Nevertheless the program carries considerable weight since it is regarded as the official expression of public participation in a cooperative decision-making process required to obtain federal financing.

New this year to the program, which rolls over annually, are:

● $5 million to purchase Bread and Cheese Island in the Christina River near Newport as the potential site of a new reservoir.

● An additional $10 million of state

Attenders at a workshop view charts illustrating components of the 2005-08 Transportation Improvement Program.

money to complete purchases of flood-damaged properties in Glenville and Stanton Crest. The state put up $19.2 million and New Castle County provided $18 million for that purpose last year after adoption of the 2005-07 program.

● $9 million to continue developing plans to use the existing railroad track between Newark and Middletown for a commuter rail line. The line would later be extended to Dover and possibly into Sussex County.

● $1 million for a preliminary study of possible extension of Churchmans Road through Delaware Park to Kirkwood Highway.

There also would be $1 million of new money for bicycle and pedestrian paths along Marsh and Grubb Roads in Brandywine Hundred and $5 million for a path linking downtown Newark and White Clay Creek State Park.

The largest project by far is continuation of the widening and improving of Interstate 95 between the Maryland state line and the Basin Road interchange. That would include reconstruction of the interchange with Christiana Mall and Delaware Route 1. The program calls for spending $4 million this fiscal year and $185 million next in addition to the $36.8 million spent in prior years.

The Blue Ball project is down for an additional $2 million this year on top of the $28.8 million already spent.

A related project would be widening the 'flyover' exit from northbound Interstate 95 onto northbound Concord Pike from one lane to two. That would cost $33.6 million allocated for this fiscal year on top of $2.3 million already spent.

Expanding capacity of the Tyler McConnell Bridge over the Brandywine is included in the program, but the status of that project remains unclear.

The program document notes a reduction of $27.2 million from the amount allocated to fiscal 2006 in the 2005-07 program and an increase of $28 million to the amount allocated for fiscal 2007. The document also states that "a new two-lane bridge will be built immediately south of the existing bridge [and] should be similar in type and at the same elevation as the existing bridge." It also said that 80% of the construction financing will be federal money.

Delaware Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Williams told Delaforum that is "about as wrong as it could be." He said DelDOT is still preparing documentation to justify federal financing of a plan, first put forth two years ago, to tear down the existing bridge and replace it with a new four-lane bridge. The issue, which has been pending for more than a year, is over whether the existing bridge has historical significance and, if so, whether that should be subordinated to the overall historic significance of the surrounding Hagley Mills property and Henry Clay Village area. Williams said there is no deadline for deciding the issue.

Over the coming three fiscal years $21.8 million would be allocated to projects at the Christina Riverfront in Wilmington, including a road and bridge over the river to connect to South Market Street, extension of the pedestrian path into the nature preserve south of the shops area and building a new walkway between the Browntown neighborhood and Frawley Stadium.

The proposed 2006-08 program also includes $7.1 million to repair four bridges on Interstate 495 over the Amtrak railroad at the Edgemoor interchange with the work scheduled for this year.

2005. All rights reserved.

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