Highway Robbery? Galena Mayor John Carroll on Delaware Tolls and Maryland Roads

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Over the last several years, the southern tip of Middletown, Delaware has assembled an extraordinary retail experience specifically designed to attract Marylanders seeking tax-free shopping. Starting with a Walmart Supercenter and then followed by the addition of a cineplex, popular restaurants, and a half dozen national chains like Michaels, Marshalls, and Kohls, this once sleepy town had transformed itself into a major commercial zone for the Mid-Shore.

Complimenting that vision was the addition of a significant bypass for Route 301 to seamlessly connect with Delaware’s Route 1 and later Interstate 95. After years of construction, the state opened the new toll road a few months ago, saving commuters and second homeowners on the Shore close to 15 minutes in drive time to and from the Delmarva Peninsula.

That was the good news.

The bad news started immediately after the Route 301 bypass ribbon cutting. Maryland drivers noticed two things about the new traffic pattern. The first was it was impossible to access Middletown Warwick Road, where all these new stores were located, without using the new toll road. The second, with no warning, was provided about the excessive charge, for doing that. It was going to cost a driver $4.00 each way to exit Rt. 301 after only traveling less than 2 miles using EZ-Pass. It was even worse for those without it with a bill in the mail for $5.60 one way.

Perhaps Delaware’s goal was to make the history books as one of the most expensive toll roads in the United States. If that was the case, they succeeded. But in doing so, the state’s highway planners not only have angered Maryland drivers with kind of highway robbery but created the unintended consequences of severally damaging Maryland’s secondary roads like the Cecilton-Warwick Road for drivers seeking toll-avoidance routes.

And nowhere is this felt more than in the unincorporated village of Warwick where car traffic on Saturdays has risen from 20 to 30 cars per hour going through their small hamlet to up to a 1,000 or more vehicles per hour on roads never designed for this level of traffic.

While common sense would suggest that the first exit could be prorated based on the short distance involved with a simple software update for EZ-Pass toll collections, Delaware has no formal plans to make that adjustment.

One person who has been watching this closely as been Galena mayor John Carroll since the toll road was being planned some ten years ago. The Spy sat down with John in the town’s council room to talk about unfair pricing of the new highway and the incalculable damage to Maryland’s roads and the Upper Shore’s way of life.

This video is approximately five minutes in length.

About Dave Wheelan

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Letters to Editor

  1. Bill Anderson says

    A significant part of the answer to this problem is for drivers, especially Maryland drivers, to boycott that toll road so as to make no contribution to Maryland. Moreover, since there is no significant Maryland business interests affected by Delawareans also boycotting the toll road, Maryland wins at Delaware’s expense. The toll rate is a ludicrous $4.00 minimum for a maximum distance of 14 miles. Maybe Maryland should place a toll booth just south of the state line on route 301, with a commensurate cost per mile.

  2. I think it is very wrong to impose high toll fees on any roads. I don’t think anyone from Maryland can complain about Delaware when tolls are so terribly high here. I know a lot of revenue is collected, but I feel they could afford to lower the tolls in both states and still survive very well.

    • Keith Thompson says

      Maryland residents do have more toll free options for getting to Middletown and back than Delaware residents have getting across the Chesapeake Bay/Susquehanna River and back.

  3. Keith Thompson says

    As a Middletown resident who works in Chestertown, I have no issues with Mayor Carroll’s comments and observations. What he says I believe is mostly true about Galena, Cecilton and Warwick. I found the comments about the Middletown housing spillover into the Galena area rather interesting and this perhaps gives rise to further economic development possibilities for communities along the Rt. 301 corridor like Galena and Millington, if they choose to pursue the opportunities. However, what is getting left out of the conversation is the Middletown perspective. Here’s mine as a resident who still makes the commute to Kent County.

    First, I have not used the new Rt. 301 and I really have no reason to use it. Usually my drive to and from Chestertown involves Edgar Price Road (which connects Levels Road in Middletown to Rt. 299 in Maryland across from the Rt. 301 Weigh Station). I actually continue down Rt. 299 through Sassafras until it connects with Rt. 290 and I completely bypass Rt. 301 altogether. This only adds maybe 5 minutes to my ride and in my case, since I live on the east end of Middletown, I actually take a different route from Levels Road and bypass the old Rt. 301 as well and eventually come into Middletown from the south. The drive has actually improved since DelDOT has begun patching and now appears to be widening Edgar Price Road.

    Second, I mentioned I live on the eastern side of Middletown, and because of the abundance of drive through traffic down Middletown’s Main Street at rush hour and especially on the weekends, it is actually easier for me to reach the Smyrna/Dover Wal-Mart than the Middletown Wal-Mart (that is if I did a lot of shopping at Wal-Mart) unless I use the back streets and roads (which is kind of a secret that those who know don’t like to share). The point is that while businesses in the Westown area of Middletown do get quite of their business from Maryland residents, that up until the new toll road, has often been easier to access from Maryland than from parts of the greater Middletown area. While the town businesses do benefit from some of the drive through traffic, especially fast food restaurants and convenience stores, that drive through traffic is not stopping at the small mom and pop downtown shops on Main Street and residents sometimes have a hard time getting to them because of that same drive through traffic.

    The number one complaint from Middletown residents is the traffic, and because of the growth of the area (led by the state and the county) plus Middletown’s geographic location near several major and minor highways (Rt. 1, Rt. 13, Rt. 301, Rt. 896, Rt. 71, Rt. 299, Rt. 15, etc.), Middletown’s drive through traffic comes from all directions. Until the new Rt. 301, the effect is having four lane highways (often truck routes) such as Rt. 301, suddenly being squeezed into a two lane street as some of that traffic makes its way to Rt. 1 on its way to Wilmington to Philadelphia. The effect would be similar to routing Rt. 50 down Washington Street on its way through Easton. As a Middletown resident, I can already see the positive effects of Rt. 301 as it has seemed to lessen the amount of through traffic making its way down Main Street. Middletown is now moving ahead with economic development plans for the historic downtown area via grants from a state downtown designation, and later this year, DelDOT will expand East Main Street (Rt. 299) from Catherine Street to Rt. 1. Future plans also call for additional streets running parallel to Main Street to shift some of that local traffic, which should be even more effective if some of the drive through traffic is now bypassing the town.

    From my perspective, the new Delaware Rt. 301 finishes a process that completes a non-stop alternate Washington D.C.-Philadelphia route, almost an alternate I-95, that was started when Maryland built Rt. 301 connecting Rt. 50 to the Delaware State line. This is something that has been planned for basically a generation. That route then created a more direct route from Maryland to access the retail outlets in Middletown (that otherwise would have been accessed locally through Galena, Cecilton, and Warwick) and also created some of the issues with drive through traffic that Middletown has faced for decades. My feeling is that if the toll was placed north of the Rt. 299 West Middletown exit to accommodate Maryland commuters, it would also continue Middletown’s drive through problem as it would simply continue the previously existing drive through routes. I do have some sympathy for people making that commute (as I make that commute in the opposite direction), but I view this (and myself) as commuting traffic and the new toll highway is not for commuters to Middletown, but for people driving around Middletown to get somewhere else. I think most of the traffic Warwick is seeing is not coming from commuters, but from drive though traffic and trucks intentionally (and sometimes illegally) bypassing the toll (as well as the weigh station). I’ve gotten used to my new commuting route (which I started using months before the toll roll was finished) and I’m sure Maryland residents still making the commute to Middletown will adjust as well. If they’re no longer coming to Middletown, hopefully they’ll be staying closer to home and helping their local communities and local economy.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says

      Interesting. I also think this highway ties into the argument for the third Bay Bridge span, which I oppose. It was never about the beach traffic, I believe, but the desire to spread out traffic traveling north. That is why three of the proposed crossings are in/near Kent County.

      • Keith Thompson says

        Deidre, absolutely this ties into the argument for the third Bay Bridge span because we now have a non-stop Washington DC to Philadelphia route that bypasses Baltimore. You should expect to see more traffic on Rt. 301 through Kent and Queen Anne’s County and I think Kent County as well as Millington is already looking at the economic development possibilities (it was part of Millington’s argument to keep Millington Elementary School open during the recent school consolidation). Because of that, I think it means the third Bay Bridge will go where the current two spans already are. Perhaps two spans to serve both the beach and DC to Philly traffic via a limited access highway with a third span dedicated to local commuter traffic. That would make sense to me.

        • Deirdre LaMotte says

          Yes, I believe that is the plan. I am not sure how we as a county can do more to fight this…seems like it’s in the works . It appears the momentum is building. Any thoughts from readers?? Thanks for your great input!

    • Mary Grace Brosius says

      My initial plan for this letter was to comment on “complimenting” vs. “complementing” in the second paragraph, but Keith Thompson’s well-written letter got me thinking from another point of view.

      I’m curious as to the financial impact this new detour has had on the merchants in Middletown. Are there data to share yet?

      However, the bottom line is that we now have a recommended detour! I’m not being snarky. While Edgar Price Road and Levels Road were not designed for heavy volume, at least they don’t run through a small town. They connect directly with DE 15, which takes one back into the shopping area so many of us in the C’town area patronize.
      Of course, Kent County residents who are intimidated by the traffic circle in CHESTERTOWN are going to have to deal with another one at the intersection of Levels Road and DE 15.

      Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve heard/seen the Mayor of Galena. Three cheers for John Carroll!

      • Keith Thompson says

        Mary Grace, my apologies for the typos as I wrote this in a bit of a hurry. I don’t know if there is any data from the Middletown merchants, but the retail growth is rapidly expanding in the Westown area just off the bypass. A Red Robin is soon opening in front of the theater. Ground was just broken for the much-anticipated Crooked Hammock Brewpub going in at the car park location next to Grotto’s. Panera is coming to the recently closed KFC next to McDonald’s which has a lot of residents excited. Another Wawa is coming at Armstrong Corner at the north entrance to town on Rt. 71, close to the North Middletown exit off Rt. 301. And all this doesn’t include the Hedgelawn Plaza Shopping Center that is rapidly going up across the highway from the Wal-Mart and Texas Roadhouse. I’ve heard rumblings that Wal-Mart isn’t doing as well (my wife used to work there); and if true, I think it comes more from rumored negative management changes there coupled with the increase in competition (Lidl, Aldi, etc.) than it does from the Rt. 301 toll.

        I regularly attend the Middletown mayor and council meetings and routinely talk to the mayor, council members, and town employees and I recall conversations about town employees being asked to stand on Main Street and count the out of state tags driving through town, and most of the tags were Maryland tags. Again it comes down to balancing the Rt. 301 traffic that comes to Middletown that stays and benefits the town with the Rt. 301 traffic that simply passes through causing hardship to the residents. One of the main priorities for the town is to make the downtown a designated downtown development zone with the ability to get state development grants which is probably similar to the Enterprise Zone designation in Chestertown.

        The biggest impediment for business expansion plans in the downtown area is the parking and the inability to get in and out because of the sheer volume of traffic. The number of parking spaces is not as much an issue, but the location of the parking means pedestrians have to cross a very busy Main Street which is both inconvenient and dangerous. Middletown Main Street events downtown actually requires volunteers to momentarily stop Main Street traffic to let pedestrians cross. Recently plans for a boutique hotel on West Main Street were tabled due to the difficulties they would have with valet services between the parking area and the hotel. The mayor and council loved the hotel concept, but the parking and valet plan simply wouldn’t work due to the traffic volume. As I mentioned before, DelDOT will start widening Rt. 299 (East Main) and there are plans for the town to begin street construction to increase the accessibility to the downtown. I hope it helps.

        Finally, I don’t think you’re being snarky at all about your comments about a recommended detour. I’ve been using it since last summer and it works well for me and I recommend it often. The fact that DelDOT is now patching and apparently extending the shoulders means they also recognize it as a local detour route. My only concern is that they keep trucks off it (and signs are posted warning that trucks are not allowed), and that has as much to do with bypassing the weigh stations as it does with bypassing the toll.

        P.S. John Carroll is a good guy!

  4. Pierce Simon says

    Ask all of your anti-Federal friends, obsessed with “no new taxes” over the last 40 years, how adding to the Federal gasoline tax to keep-up with highway improvements over the years (like the U.S. 301 corridor on DelMarVa) looks now. This is what happens when the idiots get their way. Three dollars per mile, for life. It’s an entire way of thinking that is screwed-up.

  5. We travel from Delaware to Chestertown, MD every weekend to Duck Neck Campground! The changes they made to 301 with the $4.00 toll is ridiculous and wrong! We travel via Rte 15 to 301 usually stopping in Middletown to get what we need for the weekend. We continue to come through Middletown but now we have to go onto an overpass through a little town to get to Sassafras, which then brings us back to 301!
    Why did they not build ramps from that overpass to both get on or off of 301 at that point before the toll??? Now when we head home, we go to the first exit available (299) but we have already been charged $4 for a mile ride on the new 301! They need to allow people to have the option to exit to old 301 before the toll! And I don’t mean exiting through a small town without the roads to handle the traffic!

  6. Lurlene Douglas says

    I have stopped traveling to Delaware due the tolls I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income I enjoyed going to the Delaware store if nothing else to save a few dollars and now I can’t save so I’m going to Delaware anytime soon and maybe never

  7. I go to Middletown at least twice a week as I help out with my grandchildren. I feel as though Delaware should have kept that exit that they just pulled up and put a new sign that reads Last Exit before Toll. Middletown should complain because they are the one that is going to lose the most. I live in Chestertown and here people are saying it’s only a little bit farther to go back to Dover!

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