McCarthy Presses for Local Road Help as Trucks Dodging Delaware Rt. 301 Tolls Invade Cecil County

March 18, 2019

Delaware is considering coming up with money to repair southern Cecil County roads damaged by trucks that have clogged local rural roads while evading new tolls on Route 301 near the state line and Middletown, DE, according to a letter released by Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy.

McCarthy said Friday (3/15/2019) that he spoke by phone recently with Jennifer Cohan, Secretary for Delaware’s Department of Transportation (DELDOT) about the problems plaguing the Warwick and Cecilton areas since the recent opening of the Route 301 tollroad, which is intended to bypass local traffic in Middletown. But the high toll rates– $4 for cars and up to $14 for trucks for a distance of just a few miles—has had the effect of dumping large volumes of traffic onto local Cecil County roads as drivers seek to avoid paying the tolls.

In a letter to McCarthy after their conversation, Cohan said DELDOT would post multiple new signs in the area, continue to support joint Delaware-Maryland truck weight enforcement efforts, and would “entertain the possibility of funding road paving in your county for roads that have been impacted by either the construction of US Rt. 301 or the subsequent toll avoidance traffic.”

Cohan included drawings of several new signs, to be placed in about a dozen locations, spelling out truck restrictions to bar travel on local roads near the new 301 roadway. She also pledged to “provide funding to support paid truck police enforcement efforts” in the area and cited a two-day joint Delaware and Maryland enforcement operation, on 2/28/2019 and 3/1/2019, that “yielded 85 commercial vehicles being stopped and 77 citations issued.”

She also said that a “virtual truck weigh station” would be placed on Warwick Road and electronic equipment was currently being tested for the installation. There is already a full-fledged truck weigh station on Rt. 301 itself, on the Maryland side of the state line with Delaware, but many trucks are evading that station as they also evade tolls on the highway.

McCarthy said he welcomed DELDOT’s willingness to work with the county but said there were still multiple issues to be addressed. “I am encouraged and optimistic that, in working with DelDOT and all agencies, collectively, we will come to a resolution that addresses both the safety of our citizens and the impact on our roadways,” he said.

County officials, including members of the Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Highway Administration, State Police and local officials from the town of Cecilton will hold a public meeting to discuss the Rt. 301 traffic issues this week, on Wednesday,3/20/2019 at 5:30 p.m. at the Cecilton Volunteer Fire Company hall, at the intersection of Routes 213 and 282. Local residents are welcome to attend the session.

The potential for toll evasion, and its impact on Cecil County roads, was evident more than a decade ago when the tollroad was first proposed, but then stalled due to the economic recession. During the planning of the road, DELDOT steadfastly denied there would be any toll diversion impact in Maryland. But now the warnings and fears of local residents have been confirmed.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

Meanwhile, Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang– who has actively tracked the problem of increased truck traffic in the town and nearby Warwick for the past few years as the tollroad was under construction– said that while he welcomed DELDOT offering some improvements to the situation, the problems and solutions are deeper than the DELDOT secretary’s letter suggests.

“We’re not going to be placated” by a few one-time efforts, he said. Fixing or repaving a few roads now does not address longer-term issues, such as ongoing damage to rural roads if toll evasion continues. And there is still the potential for impeding emergency responders such as fire and ambulance services that could be blocked or delayed by wide trucks blocking narrow rural roads that were never designed for truck traffic.

DELDOT and Maryland transportation officials need to address the root cause of the problem—high tolls on a short stretch of roadway, Zang said.

While DELDOT is promoting a special state EZPass transponder that would give tollroad users a 50 percent discount if, and only if, they used the road 30 times in a month, that would still mean cars would pay $2 per trip or $4 a day for Maryland commuters or shoppers who travel about just four miles each way on the tolled roadway between the Maryland line on US 301 and Middletown. That is still too high for Marylanders who have routinely traveled to Middletown for shopping or medical appointments for years, Zang observed.

For trucks, the tolls based on the number of axles is so high as to be an incentive to evade tolls, even from as far north as I-95. Zang said he watches daily as huge tractor-trailers are now traveling down Route 213 from Elkton and driving through Cecilton and Galena to pick up the toll-free section of US 301 in Maryland.

Lowering the tolls could lead to higher traffic volumes on the new tollroad that would balance out the revenues, the mayor observed. DELDOT needs to use toll revenues to re-pay a federal grant that paid for the bulk of construction costs.

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