MDOT meeting brings more focus on 301 toll diversion

State Highway Administration Administrator Greg Slater explains in general there is limits to what Maryland officials can do to force Delaware Transportation officials to answer the several issues created with its toll along 301.

ELKTON — Heavy traffic along the state line was the hot topic on Friday, Oct. 11 as both local leaders and top Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials were in Elkton for Acting Deputy Transportation Secretary Sean Powell’s annual visit to Cecil County.

Powell, along with a coalition of state transportation officials, arrived in Elkton on Friday intending to localize some items proposed in the six-year capital budget. The draft budget represents $15.3 billion investments in Maryland’s roads, highways, bridges and other transportation venues.

But the need for heavy traffic solutions were the major discussion point of the day. Many in attendance spoke to possible solutions to stem the heavy traffic on backroads, small town streets and Route 213 from drivers looking to avoid the U.S. 301 Mainline, a toll road that connects the Maryland state line to Delaware’s Route 1 at the C&D Canal.

Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy named mitigating toll diversion traffic among his priorities this year, while Council President Bob Meffley (District 1) suggested raising truck traffic limits, including the Chesapeake City bridge.

“I don’t think this is going to be solved unless the feds get involved,” Meffley said.

“This is a big problem and we seem to be hitting a wall in Maryland.”

Powell said that MDOT was looking into updated signage and reviewing plans for a crossover modification to cut down traffic. But Del. Jay Jacobs (R-36/Kent) and Del. Steven Arentz (R-36/Queen Anne’s) said they wanted more data and increased transparency on interstate transportation issues.

Specifically, Jacobs and Arentz want information about the relationship between MDOT and Delaware’s Department of Transportation, which operates the tolls.

Because Route 301 runs south along the Eastern Shore to the Bay Bridge, Arentz pointed out that the toll has larger implications for the region beyond Cecil County. Many in Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s counties who use Middletown as a weekly shopping excursion are faced with an $8 toll for a round-trip, leading others to seek out Sassafras and Edgar Price roads or Wilson Street in Warwick to avoid the toll altogether.

Edgar Price Road was closed on Oct. 10 due to significant damage from truck traffic, and county officials expect it will remain that way until spring 2020.

“Obviously Warwick has the biggest impact from this, but keep in mind, three-fourths of our district is impacted by this project,” Arentz told MDOT officials. “We’re hearing that Delaware has done this and that, and we don’t know what’s real.”

Cecilton Mayor Joe Zhang delivered a measured speech about how life has changed southern Cecil County in the past 10 months, noting that the Chesapeake City Bridge is also facing the brunt of the truck traffic as well and there were no long-term plans to replace it.

Zhang also added that it is likely that the state would spend millions of dollars to replace roads that are “eaten alive” by this issue, since his town was “bombarded with truck traffic,” and that it gets so busy on some days residents have to wait 10 minutes for traffic to dissipate to drive out of their driveway.

“If we don’t act, instead of meeting and talking, we’re going to face a catastrophe of some kind. Someone’s going to get killed on one of those backroads because there’s a truck that doesn’t belong on it,” Zhang said.

“I understand that you’re meeting with Delaware, but when we tell our constituents that, it doesn’t mean anything to them. They’re facing this every single day.”

Slater said his office would work on opening communication with other counties on potential process via a newsletter, but conceded that Maryland would have little authority on what Delaware does.

“I met with the [Delaware Transportation] secretary last week, and this week,” Slater said. “We’re in a constant dialogue over these issues. But it’s important to note that at the end of the day we have no authority over what they do as much as they can’t come into Maryland and tell us what to do.”

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