PhillyDeals: Lawmaker criticizes DelDOT's bridge-repair actions

Posted: July 19, 2014

President Obama used I-495 - the out-of-service six-lane highway that stretches from Delaware County almost to the end of the New Jersey Turnpike and includes a damaged bridge that has jammed traffic this summer on nearby I-95 - as a backdrop for a vague speech about encouraging private investors to finance upgrades of American highways, bridges, ports, and airports.

That's because his administration has been unable to get higher highway taxes passed by Congress.

The day was also an opportunity for Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to effusively thank Obama, his fellow Democrat, for bailing out East Coast drivers by shifting bridge- repair assets from elsewhere to I-495 so the state could accelerate repairs.

Markell also praised his own state Department of Transportation leadership.

That went down all right with the big-name Democrats who were sweltering in the Port of Wilmington audience. But it didn't go down so well with one leader on the edge of the crowd, both physically and politically. State Sen. Greg Lavelle, a Republican from Wilmington, reminded me that Markell's DelDOT had failed to act on months of warnings that the bridge was tilting, and may have helped cause the problem in the first place by allowing contractors to dump hundreds of truckloads of soil along the bridge pilings.

"They screwed up," Lavelle said. "There's a lack of accountability here."

I asked whether there were going to be hearings in Dover on the matter. More like private lawsuits, Lavelle said disgustedly, from shippers and commuters who have been losing hours a week to the traffic jams. The state says the highway should be at least partly reopened by Labor Day.

Big bird

Remember Colonel Sanders?KFC owner Yum Brands still has 4,000 stores around the U.S., open every day. But market share has tumbled from 40 percent at the end of the 1990s to just 22 percent today.

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A, the family-owned, Christian-friendly chain that shuts down on Sundays, is now the nation's most popular bird-meat meal purveyor, with 26 percent of the chicken-chain market, despite a count of just 2,000 stores.

And fast-food leader McDonald's (with its Chicken McNuggets, McChicken Sandwich, and all) ought to be worried, Janney Capital Markets analyst Mark Kalinowski writes in a report to clients.

McDonald's still outsells every other U.S. restaurant chain, with $36 billion in sales in 2013, triple Subway or Starbucks, nearly four times Wendy's or Burger King or Taco Bell.

But Chick-fil-A, No. 9 with $5 billion in sales, has been growing rapidly - tripling its market share in 14 years - and could actually add more sales over the next decade than McDonald's, if current trends hold.

Adding to McDonald's worries are a recent skid in sales since the recession ended. Kalinowski expects McDonald's sales to actually have fallen in June, with second-quarter profit also likely to slip below last year's levels.

What's wrong? Kalinowski surveys McDonald's franchisees and finds them more gloomy than in 63 previous surveys, with a median rating of less than 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. Sample comments from unnamed McDonald's franchise owners:

"Customers with jobs are not choosing McDonald's. [It's as if] we have told customers our food is only worth $1. So it is cheap and bad for them."

More-expensive "fast-casual chains have been able to brainwash customers that their food is good for them. Probably because they have not discounted it."


jdistefano@phillynews.com

215-313-3124

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