New US 301 ‘mainline’ puts the focus on motorists

MIDDLETOWN — It’s a small sample size, but promising nonetheless, state officials say.

The new 14-mile mainline highway — which opened Jan. 10 — stretching from near the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal to the Maryland-Delaware state line drew more motorists than expected in its first few days, state officials said.

Eventually, the $636 million “mainline” on the new U.S. 301 is projected to provide a quicker north-south pathway for 6,300 vehicles daily, the Delaware Department of Transportation reported.

Trip costs will run from 50 cents to $4 for two-axle vehicles (with four wheels) with EZ Pass, which is used by about 70 percent of motorists passing through Delaware toll areas.

Non-E-ZPass two-axle vehicles will be charged 70 cents to $5.60 based on their entry and exit points.

The extra cost is for the processing fee that includes a printed and mailed bill sent to the vehicle’s registered address.

Charges are collected at southbound exit and northbound entrance points, which begin at Jamison Corner road in the north and the state line in the south. Charges rise up to the maximum six-axle vehicles, the speed limit is 65 mph.

“If a transponder is not detected on a vehicle, a system of cameras located at each junction logs the vehicle’s unique identity and an invoice is mailed to the address where the vehicle is registered,” DelDOT spokesman C.R. McLeod said.

Vendor TransCore administers the billing for DelDOT. While an E-ZPass also registers New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virgina and Maine drivers through a reciprocity agreement, a collection agency handles the rest.

License plates are identified technologically through an automatic number plate recognition or an automatic license plate reader, a system that uses optical character recognition on images to read the license plates on vehicles, McLeod said.

Positives, negatives

According to DelDOT the benefits and drawbacks to no toll booths — the mainline is the first in roadway in Delaware to go all electronic — are:

• No toll booths means a smaller environmental footprint for tolling facilities, reduced emission impact as no vehicles idling and accelerating out of toll booths, safer as no people are required to occupy toll booths, and no slowing and stopping of traffic to pay tolls.

• 7 of 10 Delaware motorists have already integrated with E-ZPass.

• The primary negative is that a motorist cannot pay cash, but as Mr. McLeod said, “We continue to see fewer cash transactions at existing toll facilities.”

DelDOT believes the highway “will improve safety and reducing congestion with the bypassing of 29 at-grade intersections, 18 of which are signalized, and numerous driveways with direct access to existing US 301.

“The existing US 301 will be converted to a local roadway, with truck restrictions in place except for local services.”

Construction on the project began on Feb. 5, 2016, DelDOT said. A $211 million U.S. Department of Transportation loan will be paid back through toll collections. The remaining costs were attributed to, among other factors, land purchases and the maintenance of a reserve fund.

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