Route 301 traffic

The U.S. Route 301 Mainline bypass highway features a faster and safer trip for travelers when it opened in January, but it also diverted traffic onto Cecil County backroads. DelDOT paid the county $1.2 million to repair three roads hit the hardest.

CECILTON — Months after it was offered, Cecil County has accepted a $1.2 million one-time payment from Delaware to repair three roads in the southern county that were damaged by an onslaught of traffic brought on by toll diversion.

The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and County Executive Alan McCarthy signed a memorandum of understanding that acknowledges the county’s claims that the rural roads were damaged by cars looking to avoid the U.S. 301 Mainline toll road opened by Delaware just over the state line.

Back in August, County Executive Alan McCarthy revealed that DelDOT offered the $1.2 million to repair Wilson Street, Sassafras Road and Edgar Price Road but did not accept the funds. He told constituents at the time he was holding out for a long-term solution.

Three months later McCarthy took the money because “it was DelDOT’s final offer,” he told the Whig.

“We have been working together with DelDot to address this issue a number of times, and we were not getting the help [from Maryland Department of Transportation] as we would hoped,” he said. “I feel like this is more than enough to handle the roads repairs.”

Toll diversion has been a priority issue for the McCarthy administration and other county politicians this year, as residents in Warwick and Cecilton dealing with an onslaught of traffic through the roads that run through their quiet neighborhoods.

Time and time again, residents voiced concerns about road maintenance, safety, property values to traffic voluming making it almost impossible to leave their front driveways. Truck traffic in particular doubled on the three roads, with many drivers looking to avoid the minimum $14.40 toll.

In the midst of this, deputies and troopers have fining fine truckers and drivers who violate Warwick’s speed, length or weight restrictions. State Highway Administration officials report between February and May, 605 citations were issued in Maryland, resulting in $235,766.

The breaking point came for the county a few weeks ago when Edgar Price Road was closed in October because the damage sustained to it. The McCarthy administration expects the road to be closed at least until spring 2020.

But McCarthy was hopeful that the tide had been turning after a year-long struggle with the toll diversion. He pointed to the citation number as evidence as truck diversion has slowed, and now said the main challenge is small automobiles skirting the toll.

Once again, McCarthy is pushing for a discounted E-ZPass rate specifically for the 301 Mainline to reduce diversion. In theory, it would work like the $20 E-ZPass rate for the Hatem Bridge that Marylanders use to head to and from Harford County.

“Now most of the diversion is small cars, so if we move forward with this, then it’ll mutually address itself. From the very beginning, I’ve been upset about the collateral damage, and we need to find a permanent solution. I think the E-ZPasses will get us there.”

DelDOT financed the $470 million Mainline project with a $211 million U.S. Department of Transportation loan and roughly $200 million in bond funding to be paid off by the revenue created by the tolls.

DelDOT officials did not return the Whig’s request for comment as of press time. But the McCarthy administration released a press statement that reiterated that since the project was bonded, creating a commuter fee plan would not be likely.

That same press statement also suggested that DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan was “amenable to taking a closer look at in several years after there is a clearer picture of the revenues required to pay the debt service on the new U.S. Route 301 project.”

In the meantime, county Roads Division Chief Dan Webber will assess Wilson Street, Sassafras Road and Edgar Price Road and provide estimates for the cost of repairs. From there, the projects would be bid out and the $1.2 million split between them.

“They’re going to be bid high, pending rising costs of asphalt and other materials, because I’m not going to be shortchanged,” McCarthy told the Whig.

DelDOT has also promised to install equipment near Strawberry Lane and Wilson within a year to photograph truck drivers violating driving restrictions, according to press statements.

But in the case whether the high volume of traffic persists between then and now, McCarthy said he would be willing to go back to DelDOT and seek more funds to repair the roads.

“It’s in Delaware benefit to work with us because they want to capture that revenue, and for some of our residents, the situation is not sustainable,” he said. “We must work together to ensure our citizens have their quality of life restored.”

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