Delaware Road Takes Heavy Toll in South Cecil: Angry Residents Demand End of Truck Invasion

March 21, 2019

There was anger in the air, and some gallows humor, as about 100 southern Cecil County area residents gathered in Cecilton Wednesday evening (3/20/2019) to question state and local officials on efforts to counteract the invasion of heavy trucks, and speeding cars, in the Warwick and Cecilton areas as drivers trying to avoid newly imposed tolls on US 301 in Delaware clog rural roads in Maryland.

Cecil County and Maryland state officials fielded questions and provided answers, but there was a glaring absence of officials from the Delaware Department of Transportation (DELDOT), the architects of the 301 tollroad project. A small contingent of Delaware State Police truck enforcement officers did attend, apparently as a show of solidarity with their counterparts from Maryland, with whom they have recently conducted joint truck weight enforcement efforts on both sides of the state line.

Toward the end of the nearly two-hour session, Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy told the crowd that he thought an “abatement” of the tolls for a trial period, while various solutions were explored, would be a positive step. He said he would raise the prospect of suspending the tolls in further talks with DELDOT and try to enlist the help of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to make that case to the governor of Delaware.

“This problem has not fallen on deaf ears,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy has already engaged in talks with Delaware’s Secretary of Transportation and recently obtained a letter pledging DELDOT co-operation with the county and Maryland, including paying for further truck enforcement efforts, construction of new truck limit signs, and consideration of paying to repair rural roads in Cecil County that have been damaged by big trucks seeking to evade the Delaware tolls. Cars pay $4 for traveling just four miles from the Maryland state line to Middletown on US 301 while trucks have to pay from $11 to $14.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

Area residents, primarily from Warwick, Cecilton and Galena, offered a variety of possible solutions, laced with much anger over the massive increase in traffic volume from trucks and also a new crush of speeding car traffic by vehicles with out-of-state license plates that are clearly not local residents.

Some of the solutions were tongue-in-cheek. John Quinn, of Warwick, noted the upcoming planting season for area farmers and subsequent harvests of farmland that have had huge trucks get stuck in mud at the edges of narrow rural roads that were never designed for high-volume truck traffic. “I’m going to need a police escort to move my combine,” he said. But perhaps he should “leave it in the middle of the road and just walk home,” he added.

There was laughter, given the extraordinary expense of owning a combine that no one would just abandon in the road. But a few farmers sitting near Quinn suggested, with a trace of grins, that they might pull some old farm vehicles out of the barn and conveniently “run out of gas” on one of the narrow rural roads that have become popular with toll evading truckers.

Delaware truck enforcement officers and Maryland highway officials cited the results of recent enforcement efforts to issue citations to trucks violating weight restrictions on local roads on both sides of the state line, which have resulted in tickets with over $119,000 in fines. Part of the problem, they said, is that GPS systems used by truckers have not been updated to reflect the US 301 changes and truckers are confused on how to navigate through the area.

But some residents were unimpressed, noting that police could not be on duty at all hours but the problems were unrelenting. “Stop your noise—we don’t want to hear it,” said Tom Dill, a Warwick resident, as he raised his hand in the air.

Major George Stanko, chief of the law enforcement division of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, said that he had limited numbers of deputies in the southern sector of the county to respond to all calls for service but that he was directing deputies to patrol as much as they could in the Warwick area near the Delaware line for traffic violations. In fact, he said, that while driving to the Cecilton meeting, he heard over police radios reports of five traffic stops in the Warwick area for speed and truck violations.

Several residents commended the county Sheriff’s Office for efforts to enforce traffic laws in the area, with one woman commenting, “I want to thank the men with the blue lights. We are happy to see you.”

Ken Fender, who heads the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) office covering southern Cecil County, has been actively engaged in trying to find solutions to the problems and fielded many questions at the meeting. He said that one suggestion—that the state put up a “last exit before tolls” sign on the Maryland section of US 301 before the new Delaware tolls kick in near the state line—had been considered but rejected because that might trigger even more toll evasion and divert even more truck traffic onto Route 313/213 through Galena and Cecilton.

Several residents suggested various changes to the US 301 tollroad in Delaware, including re-opening a now closed turn-off near the Middletown Veterinary Hospital and posting better signs at the intersection of the old 301 with a new non-toll bypass road at the Royal Farms in Middletown– which is the only way to avoid tolls heading southbound but is all but invisible to motorists now.

Other residents complained of safety dangers at the intersection of 301 and Sassafras Road in Maryland—which has become a favored toll diversion route for many truckers—as the only area road that crosses all four lanes of 301. Other crossings require drivers to travel in one direction to a turnaround before being able to shift to the other direction on the roadway.

Attendees at the Cecilton meeting, apart from McCarthy and Stanko, from Cecil County government included County Councilor Bob Meffley (R-1), who represents the Cecilton and Warwick areas, and Councilor Al Miller (R-3), who is a longtime farm advocate and agribusiness executive, as well as County Director of Administration Al Wein. Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang, who has been a major voice in warning of the problems of toll evaders even before the tollroad opened, also attended.

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