DelDOT eyes more clarity in tolls on new U.S. 301 bypass

The first car seen heading south on the new U.S. 301 mainline approaches an overpass near the Delaware-Maryland line in Middletown on Jan. 10. Delaware State News/Craig Anderson

MIDDLETOWN — Administrative changes to billing trips on the new U.S. 301 bypass toll road will be coming.

“We are discussing changes to the invoice, violation letters and toll statements based on feedback we’ve received to bring more clarity to the information customers are receiving,” Delaware Department of Transportation spokesman Charles “C.R.” McLeod said this week.

On a public Facebook page, a string of complaints quickly added up to 315 comments, often citing violation notices, costs and increased traffic on roadways to avoid the tolls.

DelDOT acknowledged the negative reactions circulating upon launch of the 14-mile highway on Jan. 10.

“We’ve received complaints about this being a toll road, when U.S. 301 was not previously tolled and about the cost of the toll, and that there has been an increase in trucks attempting to avoid the toll,” Mr. McLeod said.

Alternately, DelDOT has “received favorable comments from users as a result of the time savings that are achieved by using the road as the road bypasses 29 intersections, 18 of which are signalized and has a posted speed limit of 65 mph,” Mr. McLeod said.

Among other responses, DelDOT justified the toll as needed to pay back loans used to build the $636 million road over three years. Without the loans, according to the state, there was no creating the bypass.

Public feedback can be made by calling DelDOT Community Relations at 760-2080 or emailing dotpublic@delaware.gov. DelDOT provides a tolling FAQ on the E-ZPass page ezpassde.com “301 Electronic Tolling (AET).”

Each two-axle northbound entry into Delaware and southbound exit into Maryland is $4 with an EZ Pass, $5.60 without, no matter how far the travel on the road. Lesser costs vary on southbound exits used.

DelDOT’s McLeod said, “The toll rate is in line with what is charged on I-95 at the Maryland/Delaware state line as well as other toll rates across the region.”

Also, “As with any new road, there is an adjustment period as motorists become familiar with the tolling system so many calls early on about toll by plate and the rates for each exit.”

Regarding toll-by-plate complaints, DelDOT explained:

• A first bill with the accrued tolls is sent o the address the vehicle is registered and there are no penalties assessed. If that first bill goes unpaid, a second reminder about the unpaid bill, again with no penalties assessed. However, if that is not paid, the bill now becomes a violation and penalties are assessed on the unpaid tolls.

• DelDOT offered another free E-ZPass promotion during the month of April to encourage motorists to sign up and which offers the benefits of a $4 trip for two-axle vehicles as opposed to $5.60 for toll by plate, and a frequent user discount where the toll rate is discounted by 50 percent for anyone using the road 30 times during a 30 day period. While many choose to link their E-ZPass to a credit card or bank account, it can also be pre-paid.

More motorists use

So far more vehicles has traveled the bypass than expected.

“The road is performing above our projections, and more than $3 million has been collected through end of April 2019,” Mr. McLeod said.
A fatal accident occurred when a fire truck at a unrelated incident was struck by a motorist. Deer-vehicle collisions have occurred as well.

There’s no signage indicating a last exit before toll into Delaware “as there are no exits in Delaware prior to the tolling facility,” Mr. McLeod said. Two signs in Maryland show notice of 11 and 7 miles before reaching the state line. Motorists can avoid the northbound toll by turning left on Sassafras Road that’s 2.5 miles from Delaware and traveling through Warwick, Maryland before reaching the non-cost part U.S. 301 again.

In two days last winter, Delaware and Maryland police combined forces to identify and ticket commercial vehicles by passing the toll road. During enforcement from 5 a.m. to midnight, 85 commercials were stopped and inspected, with 75 traffic citations and 50 written warnings for various offenses resulting. Authorities sidelined two trucks deemed unsafe and a driver was sidelined as well.

While police pledged to continue operations covering roadways illegally used for bypass, no updates data on enforcement was available this week.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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