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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 11:32 AM ET, 05/31/2011

Your reports about summer getaway routes

Travelers wrote in with comments and questions about our advice on routes out of the D.C. area for summer vacations. First, here’s my own after-action report toward Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake and points west.

Our destination was New Germany State Park in western Maryland. We followed what I describe as the traditional route: I-270 to I-70 to I-68. Since we weren’t going all the way out to Deep Creek Lake, we got off I-68 at exit 22 for Chestnut Ridge Road. The 155-mile trip from the D.C. area to the park took three and a half hours Friday afternoon.

Not bad, I thought. The serious traffic congestion was just where you’d expect: Around Frederick, where Interstates 270 and 70 and Routes 15 and 40 all close in and create a knot.

After Frederick, there were sectors where we could do 65 mph and sectors where we could do 5 mph. The latter areas were discouraging, but the drive reinforced my feeling that I should continue to suggest alternatives such as Route 144 and Alternate 40 only as scenic options.

The getaway delays on the interstates are annoying but sporadic. As long as the holdup is related to volume, rather than a crash with lane blockages, I’d stick with the interstates.

But the getaway routes that spark the most discussion are those to the Northeast. Travelers either want to avoid the toll plaza on I-95 at Newark, Del., or they want to avoid I-95 altogether.

On the routes that avoid Delaware completely by heading north into Pennsylvania from the Baltimore Beltway: Bobby Baum of Bethesda points out that we should direct drivers to get onto the Baltimore Beltway before they reach the city of Baltimore, so they don’t wind up going through the city and paying the toll for the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

To do this from I-95 north of D.C., take exit 49B, a left-side exit from I-95, and head west on the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) all the way up to exit 24 on the north side of Baltimore. Then head north on I-83 toward Harrisburg, Pa.

Sylvia S. Gordon of Alexandria wants to know how much difference the Pennsylvania routes make on tolls and time versus the traditional I-95 route.

To go east from Harrisburg, we suggest taking I-81 to I-78, then the options include staying on I-78 across New Jersey toward New York City, or taking a more northerly course, following Route 22 just before Allentown, Pa., to Route 33 to I-80 across the top of New Jersey.

Gordon’s goal is Boston, so let’s look at it that way. Drivers who take the Pennsylvania routes will save on tolls. On the traditional route along I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike, there are tolls at the Fort McHenry Tunnel; the Susquehanna River bridge; Newark, Del.; and the New Jersey Turnpike.

The route to Boston via Harrisburg will be about 500 miles and will probably take about 10 hours. The traditional route will save about 50 miles and about an hour, depending on some of the options selected along the way.

It’s difficult to make a more specific prediction, and not just because of the variety of options along the way. In the congested Northeast corridor, much depends on your getaway time and on the weather conditions. No two trips will be exactly alike.

A Boston-bound driver would probably cross the Hudson River via the George Washington Bridge, which leads to the Cross Bronx Expressway. That can be quite stressful, even though it’s likely to save time compared with more northerly routes. Those include the Tappan Zee Bridge and I-287 or even farther north on I-87 to I-84 and the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. (All the Hudson crossings are toll crossings.)

For drivers who are strictly interested in dodging the Delaware toll plaza, Susan Young writes this about one of our avoidance strategies: “These directions — ‘Turn right onto Iron Hill Road. At the end, turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Then turn right onto Route 896” — should not be posted! Yes, they are clear and will get you were you want to go but at a cost to both the commuter and the hapless residents along Chestnut Hill Road.

“For the commuter: Chestnut Hill Road between Iron Hill Road and the Delaware State line is very poorly maintained. Potholes develop each winter and are poorly fixed, leaving a lumpy patchwork of bumps and ruts. Drivers are required to slow to a crawl and sometimes forced to veer into oncoming traffic.

“For residents: Narrow shoulders and the lack of sidewalks put walkers, bicyclists, and school children in the path of frustrated drivers who tend to accelerate to risky speeds once they reach the better maintained Delaware roads.

“Please advise commuters to continue past Iron Hill Road and turn right onto Ott’s Chapel Road, then turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road.”

So I think in future I’ll go with the route that doesn’t hurt long-distance travelers and spares the locals.

By  |  11:32 AM ET, 05/31/2011

Categories:  Getaways

 
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