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Delaware Considering I-95 Toll Plaza Improvement

State governments nationwide are developing lists of transportation projects that could qualify for the rapid spending required under the federal stimulus package, and there's one on Delaware's list that would win the support of many travelers in the Washington area.

Among the state's priorities is a plan to reconfigure the Newark Toll Plaza to add two highway-speed E-ZPass lanes on the northbound and southbound sides, at a cost of about $43 million.

This would ease an infamous slowdown for many long-distance drivers on Interstate 95. You tell me about this one quite often, but especially around holiday and vacation times, and it always comes up as the crucial place to avoid when we talk about alternative getaway routes.

"Up to 250,000 people a day drive that stretch of I-95," Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement today that highlighted the proposed E-ZPass lanes. "That means we've got a quarter of a million chances to make a great first impression."

Indeed. The First State's standing has slipped in the eyes of many drivers in our area, and this project would do a lot to restore it. A maximum of 125,000 vehicles per day go through the E-ZPass lanes, according to the governor's office. The problem is that at peak periods, those lanes off to the left and right are difficult to reach. Drivers with E-ZPasses are stuck in the same backups as everyone else approaching the plaza.

Current pay lanes can process about 350 to 400 vehicles an hour, according to the transportation department. Highway speed E-ZPass lanes can process about 2,000 vehicles per hour.

Construction of highway-speed toll lanes, the kind some of you see on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, would be a breakthrough.

According to the Delaware Department of Transportation: Approximately 55 percent of travelers through the Newark Toll Plaza use E-ZPass. So, "congestion would be drastically reduced with high-speed lanes. This plaza is a regular complaint of motorists traveling through this state, and leaves travelers with a negative impression - in many cases their only impression -- of Delaware, impacting reputation, business, tourism and economic development."

Well put. The project was scheduled to begin construction in 2011 or 2012, the transportation department says, but stimulus money could speed that up considerably. The design is largely complete and no additional right of way is needed, the transportation department says.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 11, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Getaway , Transportation Politics  
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Interesting that Delaware charges such as high toll to drive through about 25 miles of their state. And then you pass a sign touting their lack of a sales tax. I wonder if the two are somehow related? Hmmm

Posted by: Dadat39 | February 11, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I think the Feds should step in and say 'any toll booth with more than 5 minute backup should be 'no charge' until the backup is removed'. It's a federally supported road and these ridiculous toll booths clogging up the Interstates (that were supposed to be 'high speed' roads) should be punished when they cannot perform properly.

Posted by: idiparker | February 11, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Let me guess . . . Delaware will try to pass these costs along to EZ Pass users somehow--fees, charges, whatever.

Posted by: ah___ | February 11, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Unless they widen the road well before the highway-speed lanes, EZPass users are still going to get caught in the bottleneck.

To Dadat39: When I first started driving I-95 on a weekly basis I wrote to the Governor of Delaware suggesting they change the state motto to "Welcome to Delaware. Gimme a buck and get out."

Posted by: kbockl | February 11, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Well put posters! I despise drive through delaware, and would love to see the tollbooth torn down completely. It routinely turns my 3 hour trip to the inlaws into a 2 1/2 or 4 hour trip.

High speed lanes would definitely help, but would need to start well before (at least 5 miles)

Posted by: russandalena | February 11, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

It's a toll road! Why should we be double-taxed for use of this road? USE THE TOLL FUNDS FOR TOLL BOOTH IMPROVEMENTS!

Posted by: blafhhhh | February 11, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

This can't happen soon enough! They charge the highest tolls for the shortest distance on the I-95 corridor, so it's a slap in the face to see the tax-free lifestyle. I sit in traffic for these folks to avoid their duty. Can we propose a stimulus project that builds a bridge over Delaware, from MD to NJ?

Posted by: MzFitz | February 11, 2009 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I cannot believe any of you still pay this toll. It's $4 ONE WAY and you have to sit in traffic before you can even fork over the money. There's an easy way around it on surface streets (even gives you an opportunity to stop at a Friendly's or Boston Market if so inclined).

Posted by: ValleyCaps | February 11, 2009 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I've seen the plans for these improvements. If you are heading northbound, the roadway divides into the "E-ZPass express" and "toll booth" lanes well before Maryland Exit 109. The lanes stay divided until past Delaware Exit 1. So if you are exiting at DE Exit 1 NB or MD Exit 109 SB, you have to go through the toll booth (but there will be E-ZPass only lanes in the toll booth still).

That being said, I strongly disagree with DelDOT's toll collection philosophy. First of all, DelDOT maintains the toll roads, no different than any other road in the state (unlike MD and NJ who have seperate toll authorities). Therefore, money collected on I-95 and Route 1 goes to fund road projects throughout the state. The toll rate on I-95 is set pretty much as high as the market will bear, and it is at the state line to ensure that intra-Delaware traffic doesn't pay anything. The Route 1 tolls are variable tolls...$1 at each of the two booths on weekdays, $2 on weekends. Their logic is that the market equilibrium is different on weekends and weekdays, and that $2 is too high for local commuters but people from Philly heading to the beach on weekends will gladly pay it.

You can bypass the tolls in Baltimore, on MD I-95, and DE I-95 by taking Routes 50 and 301, and you only have to pay the Bay Bridge toll. Works nicely except summer weekends. Delaware makes it very easy to drive around their toll on Route 1 (Army Corps of Engineers forced them to...saying that a bridge over their waterway, the C&D canal in St. Georges, had to have a way to be used for free).

Of course you do have to go on some two lane roadways. Its really not bad though. And Delaware is planning on building a freeway connection between Maryland's 4 lane US 301 and Delaware's Route 1. And guess what? It will have a toll booth at the state line. And guess how much they are planning on charging? Same as I-95, $4 each way. Like I-95, they will maximize the toll on interstate travelers and minimize it for intra-Delaware trips. There will be 3 interchanges on this new toll road, and those interchanges will have ramp tolls on the northbound entrance ramps and southbound exit ramps. The tolls are planned at $1, $0.65, and $0.35 respectively for the 3 interchanges. Well, I guess they are at least charging Delaware people something (unlike on I-95) but still, their tradition of screwing out-of-state traffic holds firm. So much for no sales tax...

Posted by: thetan | February 12, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Valleycaps is right. There's an Australian restaurant there, too.


Posted by: bs2004 | February 12, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

"Interesting that Delaware charges such as high toll to drive through about 25 miles of their state. And then you pass a sign touting their lack of a sales tax. I wonder if the two are somehow related? Hmmm"

Actually, it's a little over 13 miles.

Posted by: ceefer66 | February 12, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I have waited thru the 16 mile backup to finally dash the last 10 yards thru the EZPass lanes. I have gotten off and driven thru Newark to avoid the wait, stop for food - not faster really, but at least you don't feel trapped in traffic. I have done it both northbound and southbound, holidays and regular weekends.
I welcome the day when there are separate walled-off lanes for EZPass in DE. I just want to get on my way!

Posted by: NoVaMusicMom | February 12, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the distance depends on your destination. About 15 miles through the state going to the NJ Turnpike, about 25 miles through the state going to Philly and I-95.

The only part that is actually tolled is the segment from the MD state line to the I-295/I-495 split in New Castle, a little over 10 miles. So, about 40 cents a mile...

Posted by: thetan | February 12, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"The only part that is actually tolled is the segment from the MD state line to the I-295/I-495 split in New Castle, a little over 10 miles."

Since they eliminated the ramp tolls, it's not even really that much that's tolled, BGS info saying "Toll Road" notwithstanding. The only tolled segment is between Exit 109 in Maryland and the first exit in Delaware, which is one reason why many people like to exit I-95 at either of these and loop around via a local road a short distance to the north. As long as you enter or exit the Delaware Turnpike in Delaware and do not remain on the road to cross into (or from) Maryland, you don't pay a toll.

(I suppose it's sort of like the notorious "Tourist Exit" in Portland.)

Posted by: 1995hoo | February 12, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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