Summer getaways 2014: Best vacation escape routes for drivers leaving the D.C. area

The Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional beginning of the summer travel season, and we’re back with our annual guide of problematic routes and roadways you might want to avoid in your rush to get out of the Washington region.

The 95 Express Lanes project is on a fast track, but that probably means summer vacationers won’t be going anywhere fast when they drive through that construction zone on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia.

Of all the compass points travelers will follow on their getaways from the D.C. area in 2014, the most difficult — for the second summer in a row — will be due south. The express lanes project, begun in late summer 2012, is building “29 miles in 29 months,” said Walter J. Lewis III, project director for Fluor-Lane 95, the construction company.

The 2013 work included construction of nine bridges, sometimes forcing weekend detours on I-95. Through the rest of this year, the remaining work will include frequent weekend shutdowns of the HOV lanes in the middle of the interstate, limiting its capacity to handle vacation traffic.

While that slow ride is likely to be the biggest challenge at the beginning and end of long trips, it won’t be the only one. Here’s a look at what’s ahead along the main summer escape routes.

Northeast corridor

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Classic route: I-95 to I-295, across the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike to northern New Jersey approaches to New York (about 227 miles).

Alternatives: Consider I-95 to I-695, just before Baltimore, to I-83 to York, Pa., and Harrisburg, Pa., then I-81 to I-78. Options include staying on I-78 across New Jersey toward New York 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.

Or take Route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, follow Route 301 to Route 896 (Churchtown/Boyds Corner roads) to Route 1 (toll) or Route 13. From there, drivers can reach I-295 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which connects with the New Jersey Turnpike.

For those who want to vacation while they travel, consider driving about 120 miles from the District to take the 80-minute ferry ride from Lewes, Del., to Cape May, N.J. Reservations recommended: 800-643-3779 or www.capemaylewesferry.com.

Travel tips: North of Baltimore on I-95, the Maryland House rest area has reopened, but 14 miles beyond that, the Chesapeake House in North East, Md., is now closed for reconstruction.

Approaching the Newark, Del., toll plaza, the two left lanes will take you to the highway-speed E-ZPass toll readers. Tune your radio to WTMC (1380 AM) for traffic reports.

Before leaving home, check the Delaware Department of Transportation Web site at www.deldot.gov for traffic conditions.

The widening of the New Jersey Turnpike continues between interchanges 6 and 9 in the central part of the state, but construction may end late this year. Tune to WKXW (101.5 FM) for New Jersey traffic reports.

New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge remains open as construction begins on a replacement span to take I-87/287 over the Hudson River.

Deep Creek Lake

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Classic route: I-270 to I-70 west to I-68 west to Exit 14A at Keysers Ridge, Md., then follow Route 219 south (about 180 miles).

Alternatives: Between Frederick and Route 219, try portions of Route 144 and Alternate 40, which weave along with the interstates. Much of that route is the Historic National Road. Take it to enjoy a different drive to Western Maryland rather than to save time. Maryland travel maps, including a map of scenic byways, are available at ­www.marylandroads.com.

Travel tips: Maryland’s major roads — including I-270, I-70, and Routes 15 and 40 — pass through a bottleneck at Frederick. Try to avoid starting your trip between 1 and 8 p.m. Fridays.

Between school closing and Labor Day, the roads around Deep Creek Lake can get very crowded. There are peaceful state parks with cabins along the way west, including New Germany and Herrington Manor. At Frederick, vacationers could swing north on Route 15 to cabins at Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont.

Travelers can make reservations on the Department of Natural Resources Web site at ­www.dnr.maryland.gov.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has some highway repair projects in the western part of the state this summer, but they are unlikely to severely affect traffic flow during the peak travel times.

Eastern Shore

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Classic route: Route 50 east to Ocean City (about 150 miles).

Alternative: There really isn’t a good highway alternative to the Ocean Gateway (Route 50). Around Wye Mills, Md., Route 404 branches east from Route 50 and heads for Rehoboth Beach on the Delaware shore, but it’s narrow and crowded.

Along the Route 50 corridor, there are some short breaks, including Route 662 at Wye Mills. Approaching the shore, Route 90 (Ocean City Expressway) provides an alternative way into the city, at 62nd Street.

Travel tips: The best Bay Bridge travel times for summer weekend getaways are Thursday and Friday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; Saturday before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m.; and Sunday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m. The regular car toll for the bridge is $6, paid eastbound.

Headlight use is required at all times on the bridge. At peak periods, the westbound span is sometimes realigned for two-way traffic. In that case, the five lanes on the left side of the toll plaza are directed to that span. Drivers who want an E-ZPass Only lane for the exclusively eastbound span should use toll lanes 6 or 9.

Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. To get information about your entire route, dial 511 from within the state and use the voice-recognition system, or use the Web site www.md511.org.

Outer Banks


Classic route: I-95 south, to I-295 south, to I-64 east, to I-664 south, then I-64 to Exit 292 for Chesapeake Expressway/I-464/Route 17. Then keep left to continue to the Chesapeake Expressway (Route 168) and take Nags Head/Great Bridge Exit 291B to routes 168 and 158 and the Outer Banks (about 270 miles to Kitty Hawk, N.C.).

Alternatives: South of Fredericksburg, some I-95 drivers pick up Route 17 south at Exit 126 and take it to I-64 in the Hampton Roads area. Others take the I-295 bypass around Richmond into the Petersburg area, then take Route 460 east into Hampton Roads.

Drivers on the east side of the D.C. region could take Route 301, crossing the Potomac River on the Nice Bridge ($6 car toll collected southbound), then connect with Route 17 south. Drivers starting southbound trips from west of the D.C. area may avoid some of the I-95 congestion by taking Routes 29 and 17 to the Fredericksburg area.

Travel tips: I-95 traffic on Friday and Sunday afternoons can be stop and go between the District and Fredericksburg. Traffic volume is very high, plus there’s the 95 Express Lanes construction.

There will be lane closings on I-95 during off-peak hours and overnights, plus those weekend closings of the HOV lanes. Also watch for many construction vehicles turning into and out of the work areas.

Get information about Virginia traffic conditions through the 511 system. On the Web, it’s at www.511virginia.org. You can also call 511 from any phone in Virginia.

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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