New U.S. 301 toll bypass now open

Late Thursday morning near Middletown, a vehicle takes a northbound ramp onto the new U.S. 301. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

MIDDLETOWN — Mimi Clemens now has five to six extra hours weekly to do something else.

The new 14-mile U.S. 301 roadway opened late Thursday morning after nearly three years of construction, so the project manager can bypass congested Middletown when commuting to and from Newark, saving 25 minutes travel time each way, more at peak times.

The Galena, Maryland, resident plans to exercise more, and enjoy added time with her grandson.

Like thousands of other drivers, Ms. Clemens figures she’ll be safer on a less crowded road and is willing to pay daily to assure that. She’s excited for an E-ZPass discount and hopes for eventual frequent traveler rates to be implemented.

According to DelDOT, E-ZPass trips will debut at a maximum $4 for two-axle vehicles (northernmost entry from Del. 1 just south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the southernmost Maryland state line) and $5.60 for other license plates, with less charged for shorter trips with exits. Six-axle trucks will be charged $12 for the entire distance, $14.40 without E-ZPass.

While Ms. Clemens still plans to leave at same 6 a.m. for work as always, she’ll be able to leave earlier based on the quicker commute time. Traveling the former route meant planning when to come and go, since rush hour traffic patterns at morning and night could change drastically in a matter of just a few minutes.

“There have certainly been days I’ve said to myself before getting in the car ‘Oh my gosh I have to make that trip again,’” Ms. Clemens said.

“Fortunately I’ve had a very accommodating employer as far as scheduling, but it’s been frustrating and taken a lot of time out of my week that I can never get back. We all have tight schedules in this busy world or ours, so losing that much time to the road changes the pace of your life.”

Relocating from New Jersey in June, Ms. Clemens monitored the $636 million project online and in person when driving in the area. The roadway was initially set to open Jan. 1, but outside conditions delayed the debut by just over a week.

“I think DelDOT did a great job in keeping a deadline and only being behind just a bit due to weather issues,” she said. “That’s what I do (professionally) and on a project of this magnitude that’s not much extra time at all.”

Trucks will be restricted on the existing 301, allowed only for local deliveries and services. Interchanges are located at Levels, Summit Bridge and Jamison Corner roads.

Officials tout progress

In a news release quoting several Delaware federal and state officials, Gov. John Carney touted the new roadway for enhancing “our economic development efforts for businesses that are looking to grow and move their goods around Delaware and beyond as efficiently possible.”

Also, State Rep. Quinn Johnson, D-Middletown, said, “As a more than 20-year resident of Middletown, I’ve seen firsthand the growth that has and continues to take place in and around Middletown. The entire community will benefit from the reduction in truck traffic on local roads and the economic opportunities that arise from new companies looking to locate in this area.”

The highway project was partially funded by a $211 million U.S. Department of Transportation loan that will be paid back through toll collections on the highway, DelDOT said.

“When I was Governor, my administration identified the Route 301 corridor as an area of future high growth, and that is certainly what it has become,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper said in a news release.

“This highway project, funded by a federal government loan that I was proud to support, will improve safety for motorists and residents, reduce traffic and help bolster commerce through this booming area.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons asserted that “The construction of the new U.S. 301 is an example of why our country needs to invest in our infrastructure. The construction of the road put hundreds of Delawareans from the building trades to work on a project that will help Delaware’s economy, reduce congestion, and improve road safety.”

According to U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, “The U.S. 301 project and its all-electronic tolling system are a testament to smart planning and forward-looking infrastructure projects that ease congestion and boost our economy.

“This state-of-the-art roadway accounts for increases in our population and is an investment in our future that improves safety and mobility throughout the region.”

Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan said a formal opening would be held once the entire project is done later this year.

“I would like to thank our contractors and subcontractors who worked through one of the wettest construction seasons on record to move this project forward, and it is impressive that less than three years after groundbreaking we are now putting traffic on the new U.S. 301,” she said.

According to DelDOT the stretch of road will be the first “in Delaware to use all electronic tolling, and tolling will be active upon the opening of the road with users paying via their E-ZPass or being billed in the mail.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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