THE MARYLAND EXPRESSWAY: Upon the opening of the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I-295 and US 40) and the William Preston Lane-Chesapeake Bay Bridge (US 50 and US 301) during the early 1950's, officials in Delaware and Maryland proposed the "Maryland Expressway," a toll road that was to stretch approximately 65 miles between the two bridges. Highway officials in Delaware and Maryland lobbied to have the route included in the Interstate highway system, but the exclusion of the route from the system dashed plans for its construction.
PLANNING A FREEWAY FOR THE US 301-DE 896 CORRIDOR: From the early 1960's until the mid-1990's, state highway officials proposed a 25-mile-long freeway along the US 301-DE 896 corridor from Middletown north to I-95 in Newark. Some plans had the route, which was shown in some plans as the "Pike Creek Freeway," extending past Newark to DE 7 (Limestone Road) just northwest of Wilmington.
Although several alignments were planned for the route, including converting the existing US 301-DE 896 four-lane, at-grade arterial into a freeway with service roads, this freeway was a controversial proposal. During the 1970's, the proposed extension north of I-95 in Newark was dropped altogether.
In 1992, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) developed the following alternatives for the route:
ALTERNATIVE 1 (UPGRADE EXISTING CORRIDOR): Upgrade the existing US 301-DE 896 to a freeway from Middletown north to I-95, except for a new "Glascow Bypass" just east of town. The alternative was to utilize a short section of existing freeway at the Summit Bridge (opened in 1960) over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. In preparation for construction plans, DelDOT purchased land along US 40 just east of Glasgow for a new DE 896-US 301 interchange (at the Glascow Bypass). However, many Newark residents were concerned that a proposed interchange between the freeway and Old Baltimore Pike would take up too much land near Iron Hill, one of the highest points in Delaware. Official plans for the "upgrade" alternative were dropped in 1994, though the "Glascow Bypass" was built as a four-lane, at-grade arterial route.
ALTERNATIVE 2 (US 301-DE 1 CONNECTOR / "RIDGE" ALTERNATIVE): Build a new alignment for the US 301 Freeway from Middletown east to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway (DE 1 Turnpike) south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Traffic between US 301 in Middletown and I-95 would use DE 1, which would be widened to six lanes from Odessa north to I-95 in Christiana. DelDOT currently is pursuing this alternative.
ALTERNATIVE 3 ("SUMMIT BRIDGE" ALTERNATIVE): Build a new US 301 Freeway beginning west of Middletown on a westerly alignment to the Summit Bridge. Like alternative 1, this alternative was to utilize a short section of existing freeway at the Summit Bridge. Just past the Summit Bridge, the US 301 Freeway alignment was to shift to the east of the existing route and continue north past DE 72 (Sunset Lake Road) to a new EXIT 2 on I-95 in Newark. DelDOT also dropped this proposal in 1994.
ALTERNATIVE 4 ("STATE LINE" ALTERNATIVE): Build a new US 301 Freeway on a westerly alignment from Middletown north to I-95 in Newark. The alignment would not cross the existing US 301. Because of concerns about numerous streams that had to be crossed (which are part of the Chesapeake Bay headwaters) on this alignment, DelDOT dropped this alternative in 1994.
ALTERNATIVE 5 (EASTERLY ALTERNATIVE): A fifth alternative that would have created a new alignment entirely east of the existing US 301-DE 896 corridor. Because of concerns that the new route would disrupt agriculture, DelDOT dropped this alternative in 1992.
The cost of the alternatives was estimated as high as $205 million, including right-of-way acquisition, studies, and construction. With no clear consensus for handling the US 301 congestion issue, the issue lay dormant for several years.
This 2004 photo shows the northbound US 301 (also DE 71 and DE 896) approaching the Summit Bridge over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Middletown. The bridge was built in 1960 as part of a 1954 canal authorization program by the Army Corps of Engineers. (Photo by Alex Nitzman, www.aaroads.com.)
CONNECTING US 301 TO THE DE 1 TURNPIKE: In 1998, DelDOT revisited the US 301 issue amid rapid development and growing congestion in southern New Castle County. By this time, US 301 carried more than 20,000 vehicles per day (AADT), a volume that was poised to double by 2010. Surprisingly, a new freeway garnered the most support among alternatives that included traffic signal coordination and HOV lanes along the existing US 301.
As a result of the 1998 study, which found that 65% of US 301 traffic was bound to Wilmington and points north (only 35% was headed toward Newark), DelDOT identified the US 301-DE 1 connector as the desired alternative.
In June 2005, DelDOT expedited design studies for the proposed US 301-DE 1 connector. The state initially explored six alternatives, all of which were to be four-lane tolled expressways beginning at the Maryland-Delaware border. By late 2005, the state narrowed down the list to the following four alternatives:
YELLOW ALTERNATIVE: This 12.7-mile-long alternative would utilize the existing US 301 and DE 896 rights-of-way through Middletown to the DE 1 Turnpike. The $603 million alternative would require the acquisition of 323 properties (many of which are in Middletown) and 44 acres of wetlands.
PURPLE ALTERNATIVE: This 15.3-mile-long alternative would veer north and west of the existing US 301 alignment just north of the Maryland-Delaware border, crossing US 301 north of Middletown. At Cedar Hill Road, a two-lane express spur ("super-2") would split from the four-lane mainline and run north to the existing Summit Bridge. The mainline route would parallel Cedar Hill Lane north to DE 896 (Boyds Corner Road), then run parallel to (and just north of) DE 896 to the DE 1 Turnpike. The $500 million alternative would require the acquisition of 127 properties and 16 acres of wetlands.
BROWN ALTERNATIVE: This 15.7-mile-long alternative would veer north and west of the existing US 301 alignment just north of the Maryland-Delaware border, running parallel to Choptank Road. Just before the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, the four-lane highway would veer east along Bethel Church Road and Lorewood Grove Road. The $561 million alternative would require the acquisition of 111 properties and 27 acres of wetlands.
GREEN ALTERNATIVE: This 17.4-mile-long alternative is similar to the purple alternative (including the "super-2" spur to the Summit Bridge) except that at DE 896, the route continues in a northeasterly direction roughly along Jamisons Corner Road (not east along DE 896). The $560 million alternative would require the acquisition of 126 properties and 21 acres of wetlands.
THE "GREEN ROUTE" WILL BE A TOLL ROAD IF BUILT: On November 13, 2006, DelDOT announced plans to pursue the "green" alternative after the agency received about 3,000 written comments in support of the alternative, the highest count of all the alternatives. With DelDOT attempting to close a $2.7 billion budget at the time of approval, and amid rising construction costs (the cost of the "green alternative" had risen to $602 million by 2008), the state opted to contract with a private firm to fund the US 301 project under a 99-year lease program.
The firm would operate a toll plaza on US 301 just north of the Delaware-Maryland border and charge tolls comparable to the Delaware Turnpike (I-95), which currently is $4.00 for passenger cars in both directions. If the State Legislature approves the deal, construction could begin as soon as the first bonds are issued in 2010. Without final approval from the State Legislature, the US 301 project may be shelved indefinitely.
SOURCES: "Delaware Bridge Nears Completion" by William G. Weart, The New York Times (4/22/1951); "Delaware Bridge To Open" by Kalman Seigel, The New York Times (8/11/1951); "US 301 Planners Cull Options," The Wilmington News-Journal (12/03/1992); "Deadline Nears for US 301 Plan," The Wilmington News-Journal (10/16/1994); "Big Plans in Store for US 301," The Wilmington News-Journal (4/29/1998); "Road Options Are All Over the Map," The Wilmington News-Journal (8/30/1998); "New Option Offered for US 301 Fix" by Angie Basiouny, The Wilmington News-Journal (8/12/2005); "Neighbors Divided Over Plans for 301" by Alison Kepner and Angie Basiouny, The Wilmington News-Journal (8/25/2005); "DelDOT Picks US 301 Bypass Route" by Andrew Tangel, The Wilmington News-Journal (11/14/2006); "Officials Say New US 301 Will Be Worth Wait" by Andrew Tangel, The Wilmington News-Journal (11/20/2006); "Draft FY 2008-2011 Transportation Improvement Program," Delaware Department of Transportation (2006); "DelDOT Considers Cashing In on Toll Roads" by Summer Harlow, The Wilmington News-Journal (1/07/2007); "US 301 Bypass To Be Toll Road" by Al Kemp, The Wilmington News-Journal (2/26/2008); Delaware Department of Transportation; Nick Klissas; Alex Nitzman.
US 301 and DE 896 shields by Scott Colbert. Lightposts by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.