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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 03:49 PM ET, 05/08/2012

Southbound I-95: Drivers warn of heavy traffic, offer tips to avoid the worst of it

Maybe it’s the approach of Memorial Day weekend and the start of the summer driving season: Several travelers asked during Monday’s online chat for advice about traffic conditions on Interstate 95 south of D.C. One driver had a midweek meeting in Richmond at 10 a.m. Another was doing far more advanced scouting, planning a southbound trip starting on an August weekend.

As often happens, many readers wanted to be helpful to both travelers, but I couldn’t get to all their responses before the chat had to end. Here they are, with the responses to the midweek traveler coming first, followed by the summertime look-ahead.

There’s some variation in their responses, but most warn of heavy traffic and advise very early or very late travel.

Please add your own advice in the comments section below. I’ll draw on suggestions for our annual guide to summer escapes, which we’re planning for the May 20 Commuter page in The Post.

re: Richmond

Personally, I would tell this writer that he really should go the night before and get a hotel room and stay the night in Richmond. No way I would want to get up at 5 a.m. to drive 100+ miles for a 10 a.m. meeting!

Meeting in Richmond

Look into Amtrak. Trains leave out of D.C.’s Union Station and also Alexandria to head south. There are two stations in the Richmond area: downtown and Waples Mill. You can then take a cab to the meeting.

Saturday morning I-95

Southbound on I-95 on Saturday mornings is atrocious from the Capital Beltway all the way to Fredericksburg. It’s better the earlier you can leave, but you can forget getting south of Fredericksburg in less than two hours after 9 a.m. This is quite possibly the worst stretch of highway traffic in the country.

It’s bad enough when it backs up during weekday rush hours, but when the road consistently backs up for 20+ miles on weekends (even after 10 p.m. on Sunday nights northbound), there’s a serious problem. The problem is that the only alternatives are to go 30+ miles out of your way to drive on I-81 or sit through lights and local traffic on Route 1. There are no other reasonable alternatives, something that seems to be lost on the Virginia Department of Transportation, who’s primary solution to the problem is to add high-occupancy toll lanes to I-95.

I-95 south on a Saturday in August

Having done this a few times, it can be really, really heavy. Seems to me that we were on the road from Chevy Chase by 6 a.m., but got really bogged down in very heavy traffic from the Occoquan through Fredericksburg and really until the I-295 split just north of Richmond. I don’t have a remedy, just a thought that next time we’ll leave even earlier.

D.C. to Richmond

My wife and I drive to Richmond about twice a month to see relatives. Here is a quick synopsis: 1. Saturday south is usually bad in the summer. However, if you leave before 8 a.m., it should be okay. 2. Sunday north is always bad. Early (before 9 a.m.) or really late (after 10 p.m.), you should be okay.

3. Take advantage of the HOV if available. For southbound, I often take the exit right before the HOV ends (Route 234 to Manassas, I believe) to avoid the backup caused by merging HOV traffic onto 95 from the left. 4. For the Wednesday traveler [with the 10 a.m. meeting], you should be okay if you leave at 7:30 a.m. to be in Richmond by 9:30 a.m. Best advice is to be patient, and drive carefully. There’s so much traffic that weaving back and forth won’t get you very far.

Re: Driving South on I-95

I’ve done this on Saturday mornings in the summer many, many times because my family is in South Carolina. It’s doable only if you leave very early — I’m talking no later than 6 a.m., 5 a.m. being preferable. I’ve gotten stuck in nasty traffic jams as early as 7 o’clock on Saturday mornings going south on 95 during the summer.

By  |  03:49 PM ET, 05/08/2012

Categories:  Driving, Highways, Getaways | Tags:  DC transportation, Virginia Department of Transportation, Getaways

 
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