The goal is to open the main road which stretches from the Maryland line to Route 1 near St. Georges by the end of the year, but weather delays could push that date into January. SEE A COMPUTER-ANIMATED VIDEO of a drive on the new road in this story.
The Delaware Department of Transportation is putting the finishing touches on the new U.S. 301 toll road through Middletown, but the opening date isn’t set in concrete.
One thing that is certain, though – drivers won’t be able to pay the toll with cash. There won’t be any toll collections booths at all. Tolls will have to be paid through the E-Z Pass electronic transponder or the new toll-by-plate system that takes a photo of a vehicle’s license plate if an E-Z Pass transponder isn’t used.
“Our goal is to open the main line by the end of the year, however, weather could certainly slow the finishing work on the road and push the opening into 2019,” said C.R. McLeod, DelDOT director of community relations. “Weather has been a very big challenge for the contractors on this project. We are seeing one of the wettest years in recent memory.”
The 14-mile project started in February 2016, connecting U.S. Route 301 at the Delaware-Maryland line southwest of Middletown and running northeast to Route 1 near the Roth Bridge and Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
One part of the project that has opened is the new Route 1 northbound on-ramp from U.S. Route 13 near St. Georges, just before the Roth Bridge. New signs direct traffic to access the on-ramp prior to the Biddles Toll Plaza at Port Penn Road. The old on-ramp will be closed.
While the main toll road will soon be open, several road project related to the new U.S. Route 301 won’t be finished, such as the Hyett’s Corner Road overpass near St. Georges Tech north of Middletown. Before construction on the new toll road started, Hyett’s Corner Road connected with U.S. Route 13, but the section of Hyett’s Corner Road between the school and U.S. Route 13 has been closed during the construction of the overpass.
“Most of the other projects are scheduled to be finished by late spring or early summer,” McLeod said.
One of the main reasons for the new toll road is to get truck traffic off old Route 301 through the Middletown area, he said.
“The driving factors in the planning of the new toll road are to improve safety, manage truck traffic and reduce congestion,” he said. “The truck traffic today that is just passing through Middletown will not be able to go through town as before. They will have to take the new toll road. There will be restrictions on trucks except for local deliveries.”
The cost of the project is about $636 million, with funds from toll-backed revenue bonds and a loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
New toll-by-plate system and E-Z Pass
The new cashless toll collection systems are being used on U.S. Route 301 to cut costs, reduce pollution, improve traffic flow and increase safety, according to Shelley Koon, chief of communications for the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles.
“With traditional tolling, when you approach a toll structure, you have to reduce your speed,” said Koon. “If you’re paying cash, you have to stop to pay. Even if you’re using the E-Z Pass lanes, traffic still tends to slow down as drivers are choosing lanes. Occasionally you get someone who realizes at the last second they’re in the wrong lane.”
With the automatic toll collection system on the new U.S. Route 301, there are no toll booths where drivers will need to stop or slow down.
“Traffic keeps moving, and you eliminate that bottleneck which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” said Koon.
The lack of toll booths should decrease the chance for collisions and fender benders, she said.
The cost of building and staffing toll booths is also eliminated.
If a vehicle doesn’t have an E-Z Pass transponder, a photo of the vehicle's license plate will be taken at the toll zone and a bill will be sent in the mail to the address of the vehicle’s registered owner, as listed in Division of Motor Vehicle records.
The toll is the responsibility of the registered owner of the vehicle, no matter who’s driving the vehicle.
Drivers are expected to keep their address current with the Division of Motor Vehicles.
“Remember, there are two systems – the driver’s license system and another for motor vehicles,” said Koon. “If you change your driver’s license address, please change the address for your vehicle registration as well.”
Enforcing tolls for out-of-state drivers
Delaware drivers who don’t pay the toll-by-plate bills by the deadline, after receiving more fines, eventually won’t be able to renew their vehicle registration.
But what about out-of-state drivers?
“We have a reciprocity agreement with New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maine that will allow us to bill out-of-state drivers as well, and we utilize a collection agency to bill drivers from other states,” McLeod said. “With the six state reciprocity agreement and the use of a collection agency, we are confident we will be able to collect a majority of the tolls from out-of-state drivers.”
As for truck drivers, McLeod said many commercial operators use programs that manage their toll collection payments to states and already work with the E-ZPass system for the Route 1 tolls and I-95 tolls. For those that don’t, the toll-by-plate system will be used and the invoice will be mailed.
Toll charges on U.S. Route 301 for two axle cars, vans, SUVs, pickups and motorcycles for the full trip are $4 for E-Z Pass and $5.60 for toll-by-plate.
For a five-axle tractor trailer, the full toll is $11 for E-Z Pass and $13.20 for toll-by plate.
Beware of quirk in toll charges
Toll prices vary depending on where you enter and exit the road – unless your initial entry is from the Maryland line or you exit at the Maryland line.
Northbound drivers who enter from the Maryland line will be charged the full toll at any exit, no matter the distance.
Southbound drivers who exit at the Maryland line will be charged the full toll, no matter where they entered the toll road.
It’s not a glitch in the toll calculator on the DelDOT website, McLeod said. That’s the way the toll system is set up when you go through the tracking system at the Maryland line.
He said a similar set-up is used on Interstate 95 in the Newark area.
“Local traffic will still be able to utilize local roads in and around Middletown as they currently do,” McLeod said. “The majority of traffic that we anticipate paying the full fee is through traffic that used to come into Middletown and now will be bypassing on their way to their out-of-state destinations.”
If you enter or exit before the Maryland state line, the tolls are significantly less, for example driving southbound from Route 1 and exiting at Levels Road, the toll for a car, van, pickup, SUV or motorcycle is $1 for E-Z Pass and $1.40 for toll-by-plate.
However, if you enter southbound U.S. Route 301 at Levels Road and drive the few miles to the Maryland line, you’ll be charged the full toll, the same as if you’d driven the entire distance from Route 1.
Penalties for not paying toll
If the vehicle’s registered owner fails to pay a video invoice by the due date, each toll transaction becomes a toll violation. Additional fees and penalties will be imposed on each individual toll listed on the invoice that is not paid.
These fees are:
$25 administrative fee to support the cost of the violation processing by the department,
$15 fee to the fund to combat violent crimes,
$10 fee to the State Fire Prevention Commission Volunteer Ambulance Company Fund.
If the tolls and violation fees are not paid by the date specified on the toll violation notice, the following penalties are added for each transaction:
$25 civil penalty,
$12.50 civil penalty surcharge.
If the tolls and fees are not paid by the deadline following the civil penalty, DelDOT may institute a registration hold on any vehicle connected with this invoice if the tolls are not paid in full. A registration hold marks the vehicle registration for non-renewal until all past due tolls and fees are paid in full.
E-Z Pass discounts
“E-Z Pass is the best way to go through the new U.S. Route 301 toll road,” said Koon. “You save up to 25 percent on tolls and won’t have to look for another invoice in the mail. Right now if you open a new account, you get the transponder for free. It’s a program that we’ve run before, and we thought the timing was right because we know a lot of people will be interested in getting an E-Z Pass account with the opening of the new road.”
The free transponder offer ends Dec. 31, 2018.
To sign up for E-Z Pass, see the website ezpassde.com or call 1-888-397-2773 or stop by the office at any Delaware toll plaza including the Biddle’s Corner toll plaza north of Odessa near the Roth Bridge.