NEWARK, Del. — By year's end, truckers again could see cops on the lookout for Delaware Turnpike toll evaders along streets in this area, officials said.
The state Department of Transportation stopped paying for heightened enforcement from Delaware State Police and Newark police in 2007, according to police agencies. New agreements are under discussion.
"It was like as soon as we were gone, the truckers knew," Newark City Manager Carol Houck said. "Our guys just can't be out there all the time."
The Transportation Department is looking to reinstate money for special-duty patrols along routes restricted to local deliveries only, such as Delaware 4 and Old Baltimore Pike, also known as Delaware 281. The goal is to slow declining commercial toll revenues on Interstate 95.
The law prohibits commercial vehicles weighing more than 9 tons or having more than two axles from traveling along routes where signs are posted, except for local deliveries and pickups. However, the definition of "local" varies from town to town, police agency to police agency.
Drivers for a stone quarry in Elk Mills, Md., about 5 miles west of Newark, are objecting to the tickets received for violating weight restrictions on Christiana Parkway in Newark.
The haulers argue that the quarry's location a mile from the city's western border is "local," as are the bulk of their trips. Taking i-95 is inefficient when drivers can take Elkton Road to Delaware 4, also known as Christiana Parkway, said Elk Mills Quarry's dispatcher, Shirley Feeney.
"We've been fighting this battle for a few years. It stops and then it starts again," Feeney said. "The bottom line is the state of Delaware just wants these trucks to pay the toll."
Historically, Newark considered "local" service to be departures and destinations north of I-95 and west of Delaware 72. Troopers consider "local" trips to be those to or from an address on the traveled roadway or vicinity, said Sgt. Paul Shavack, spokesman for Delaware State Police.
Depending on the issuing agency, citations can run $77 to $95 and include two points assessed to a driver's license.
"We don't have officers who are specifically assigned to Route 4 to look for violations," said Lt. Mark A. Farrall, a spokesman for Newark police. "However, if an officer happens to stop someone who's from New York and headed to Florida, that's obviously not a local delivery."
The weight restrictions on Delaware 4 aren't because of structural limitations on the bridge but to keep large trucks off the roads, said Mark Luszcz, chief traffic engineer for the state Transportation Department.
"The reason there's a truck restriction on Route 4 is because the viable route is I-95," Luszcz said. Delaware's only toll booth along its almost 14 miles of I-95 is about 1.5 miles east of the state's Maryland border.
Truck owner and driver Greg Evans of Newark said the weight restriction is unfair because it targets only trucks when many cars also skip the toll booth. He often parks his rig in Newark and patronizes businesses on Elkton Road for fuel and truck washes.
"Anybody with GPS can request a route without tolls," Evans said. "If they want to ticket the people for going around the tolls, fine. Just ticket everybody."
During enforcement campaigns, troopers with the Truck Enforcement Unit would be on the lookout for any traffic violations in addition to stopping trucks to check whether the hauler has a local delivery according to the manifest, Shavack said.
"If, through further investigation, it was determined that it was not for a local delivery, the operator was issued a traffic citation for Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device," Shavack said of past practices.
Toll revenues from the Newark plaza on I-95 slipped during the recession and haven't recovered like other comparable highways in the region, said Brian Motyl, assistant director of finance for the Delaware Transportation Department.
Transactions fell 8% for the largest commercial category — 5-axle tractor-trailers — during the fiscal year ending June 30 and are down by 25% when compared to 2006 traffic. Overall commercial toll revenue was down by more than $2 million — 7.5% — from 2013, according to state data.
Round-trip tolls for a 5-axle vehicle are $18.
The state Transportation Department isn't sure what's behind the decline, but leaders are concerned. Revenues for Delaware 1, which is a 51-mile toll road from Dover Air Force Base north to I-95, have not followed the same trend.
"Truckers talk, and if they're telling one another there's no enforcement, more and more could be diverting," Motyl said. "But I don't think our whole decline can be attributed to that. There can't be 195,000 tractor-trailers diverting."
Tolls collected from all vehicle types at the I-95 Newark plaza last fiscal year totaled $25 million, about the same as the previous year.
DelDOT projects that the highway will generate $118 million in revenue from tolls and concessions this year. It's the third largest source of the agency's financing for operations and capital projects behind federal contributions and fees collected from the Division of Motor Vehicles. Tolls at the Newark plaza last increased in 2007.