By Christopher Kersey, chris.kersey@doverpost.com

Plans are in the works to widen Route 299 from Catherine Street to the Route 1 interchange in Middletown to ease traffic congestion.

But the project won’t be finished until the spring of 2021 after construction begins in the fall of 2019. The state Department of Transportation (DelDOT) plans to start securing the right-of-way for the project this fall.

As part of the project, Route 299 will be widened from Catherine Street to Cleaver Farm Road by adding a center turning lane, said Tom Brooks, project manager. Also, a sidewalk will be installed on the northern side of 299 and a multi-use asphalt path for bicyclists, runners and walkers will be created on the southside of 299.

From Cleaver Farm Road to the Route 1 interchange, Route 299 will be widened into four lanes—two each direction, Brooks said. There won’t be a full turning lane in the middle, but grass instead. There will be short turning lanes for motorists on Route 299 at the traffic lights and turns onto intersecting streets.

DelDOT also plans to make it safer for pedestrians on 299 where the road crosses over Route 1. There will be a 4-foot-tall wall constructed along 299’s shoulders to make it secure for people walking, Brooks said.

A cost for the project hasn’t been determined because it’s still in the designing stage, Brooks said. DelDOT has hired engineering consultant McCormick Taylor based in Newark to draw up the plans to widen 299, but also look at utility work and perform subsurface investigations, Brooks said.

There is $6.5 million for construction available in DelDOT’s Capital Transportation Plan for the project. The Federal Highway Administration will pay 80 percent of the engineering costs and the state 20 percent.

The project’s purpose is to relieve traffic congestion.

“The SR299 currently experiences congestion during the morning and afternoon peak hours and lacks bicycle and pedestrian facilities,” said DelDOT’s website. “This project will address the congestion, safety and pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure improvements.”

Traffic on Route 299 sometimes backs up on the ramp coming from southbound Route 1, Brooks said.

The widening of 299 will take so long to complete because the road won’t be closing for it, he said. There aren’t many detours available to take advantage of if 299 was closed, he added.

Widening West Main Street in downtown Middletown isn’t part of the project. There’s no way to widen Main Street west of Catherine Street since the properties are next to the road, Brooks said.

DelDOT has projects planned in the future, which would relieve traffic congestion downtown, but those projects are years away and they haven’t progressed to the design stage, Brooks said.

In the meantime, the new U.S. 301 should help relieve traffic congestion in downtown Middletown, said Bob King, DelDOT spokesman.

The new 301 is a new 14-mile toll road from the Delaware/Maryland line and to the Roth Bridge, north of the Biddles Toll Plaza. It’s expected to be completed by December 2018, which is before the 299 widening is completed.