Memorial Day weekend to open summer getaway season for D.C. area travelers

We have our own holiday tradition: On the Sunday before the Memorial Day weekend, we use the Metro section’s Commuter page to set up a summer getaway guide. I describe some of the best known routes out of the D.C. region and add some of your suggestions about alternatives.


(Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

Memorial Day Weekend: “I have family coming to town for the Memorial Day weekend, and they want to go to Colonial Williamsburg. Due to particular scheduling, we are facing making the trek home to Olney at the peak of returning traffic on Monday afternoon.

“Do you have recommendations for any alternate routes to Montgomery County that will avoid the crunch on I-95? Would 301 to Route 5 to the Beltway be a good alternative?”

DG: Travelers remind me each year that there are no undiscovered shortcuts or alternative routes that are traffic-free during peak periods. Sometimes, it’s just a question of trading one form of pain for another. You may avoid a crawl along highways in exchange for long waits at traffic lights. To better the experience, timing is at least as important as route. Beginning the trip very early or very late can make a big difference.

That said, many travelers do like Route 301, which crosses the Potomac River at the Nice Bridge. That’s a toll bridge, but the toll is in the southbound direction. Frequent commenter 1995hoo took note of that in a discussion about routes south from D.C.

Russtinator added this warning: “traffic reports on the stretch from Quantico to Fredericksburg are very generalized and spotty, so it’s very difficult to gauge exactly how backed up I-95 is at any give time to make a decision to take an alternate route.”

That’s such a common experience in holiday travel: Drivers rarely can be sure that the route they chose was any better at that hour than the alternative they gave up.

A traveler heading back to Montgomery County from Williamsburg could use Route 17 to connect with Route 301. Some drivers find Route 17 a more pleasant alternative to Interstates 64 and 295, which will be heavy with traffic returning from the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach, as well as from the Williamsburg area.

To me, the worst part of the trip using Routes 301 and 5 (Branch Avenue) is getting through the crowded Waldorf area in Southern Maryland before connecting with the Capital Beltway.

If I did the traditional route, and took Interstate 64 to 295 to 95, I think I’d swing around the west side of the Beltway, go up I-270, then head east on the Intercounty Connector (MD 200). That's a toll road. But at that point in what’s almost certainly going to be a long trip home, I’d pay to pick up a little speed back to Olney.

A driver who did this would be traveling through the work zone for the 495 Express Lanes on the west side of the Beltway, but the Virginia Department of Transportation, like most of the other highway departments, suspends road work during the major holiday weekends.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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