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Churchman's Road Extension: A test for WILMAPCO

by Vic Singer

WILMAPCO's January 10 Transportation Public Meeting focused on extending Churchman's Road from SR-4 to SR-2. Many prior studies found this extension to be sorely needed. At issue now isn't WHETHER it should become reality, but WHEN. Overlapping merits include:

  • Reducing congestion on the heavily traveled north-south roads in the area;
  • Same for Route 4, an east-west road severely impacted by north-south road discontinuities;
  • Reducing travel time for trips impeded by the above-cited congestion;
  • Reducing collision frequency attributable to the above-cited congestion;
  • Improving air quality attributable to congestion;
  • Reducing travel time for fire apparatus;
  • Reducing travel time for ambulances heading for Christiana Hospital;
  • Diminishing consequences of delayed emergency treatment at the hospital

A December meeting in WILMAPCO's offices prompted moving the project from the Long Range Plan to the Proposed New Project list. The one contrary view expressed was based on an anticipated further extension northward from Route 2, not presently at issue. A letter several years old from DelDOT Secretary Nathan Hayward was distributed; acknowledging that starting on the extension had long been delayed for political reasons.

The political reasons needn't be pursued, though it's useful to understand them. Former Senator Tom Sharp, while resident in a subdivision traversed by the SR-2 entrance to Delaware Park, assured his neighbors that the entrance would be expanded only over his dead body. WILMAPCO put the Churchmans Road Extension on the post-2020 list in spite of the numerous studies declaring it essential, perhaps in reflection.

Less known is a 1981 Buena Vista meeting on maximizing economic development opportunities. Where development pressures were so intense that development would occur despite transportation system overloads, like in Metroform, State spending on transportation system improvements was wasteful. More bang for the bucks would result from spending elsewhere. A 1981 letter from DelDOTís Secretary Kermit Justice acknowledged

ď . . . the State's desire, as voiced by the Governor, to promote economic development . . . [by] allow[ing] development free reign . . while . . . magnify[ing] the potential need for broad scale and ... expensive highway improvements in the future. . .".

The letter was to a proponent of that strategy, Acting Secretary of Community Affairs and Economic Development, Nathan Hayward.

Politics focus on WHO SAID WHAT, not on WHAT WHO SAID. But WILMAPCO's task is assuring that transportation system improvements that the public gets for federal bucks are close to the biggest bang possible. That efficiency notion demands judgments supported by WHAT WHO SAID, not WHO SAID WHAT - - by substance rather than politics, not just by the WILMAPCO Council's vote count.

All the listed merits need quantitative grading with numerical results. Thatís the easy part. More difficult is establishing a common denominator to weigh merits - - and demerits - - on the same scale. Still more difficult is numerically comparing the Extension with other projects now competing for federal transportation bucks.

To address substantively the NOT WHETHER BUT WHEN issue, WILMAPCO must reach all three quantifications.

Long ago, a Lehigh University professor told how his scientific field was harmed by focus on WHO SAID WHAT rather than on WHAT WHO SAID. His remarks, paraphrased, are applicable far beyond his science:

Contrary to popular belief, purveyors of illogic and unreason do not sow the seeds of their own oblivion. Their own perpetual embroidery of baseless and incorrect theses is less amazing than the pursuit of such theses by hordes of disciples. The disciples create such formidable bodies of work that the irrelevancies of the initial points of departure are completely concealed.

R.S. Rivlin (paraphrased for brevity) in "Red Herrings and Sundry Unidentified Fish in Continuum Mechanics" Sept. 1969

The Churchman's Road Extension intensifies WILMAPCO's task of doing SUBSTANTIVE work. New Castle County's Unified Development Code (UDC) allows development on any parcel only when the needed infrastructure is in place, under construction or under contract. That provision - - branded by opponents as draconian and by proponents as essential - - started with the transportation system because of years of deteriorating mobility. The UDC expanded and immortalized the requirement.

Approval for a much-needed major expansion of the Christiana Hospital, now under way, hinged on a waiver of the UDC transportation system requirements. Judging acceleration of the Churchman's Road Extension as NOT appropriate would condemn the waiver and the hospital expansion as mistakes. How WILMAPCO meets the challenge will teach those who support - or endure - WILMAPCO's continuation some important lessons.

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Posted: FLR -