Memorial Day getaway gets going for D.C. area drivers

May 24, 2012

You may have heard of the survey that found that a half-million more Americans will travel at least 50 miles on Memorial Day weekend this year than did last year.

So what? You care about how many of them are going to be on Interstate 270 or I-95 when you want to use it, and that answer tends to be the same every year: Too many.

Here are some tips on how to minimize the pain this weekend and during the rest of the vacation season.

●Timing: There are no undiscovered shortcuts, only alternate routes. So your departure time counts at least as much as which set of roads you pick. Traffic leaving the D.C. area is likely to be heavy Thursday evening and Friday afternoon and evening. Traffic also is heavy most of the day Monday. Many are returning from long-distance trips, and others who stayed local are heading to holiday cookouts, parades and other outdoor activities.

●Driving northeast: Approaching the Newark, Del., toll plaza, the two left lanes will take you to the highway-speed E-ZPass toll readers. Those lanes put the easy in E-ZPass, but Delaware still can be nasty at peak periods, especially around the exits for routes 1 and 7.

As you approach the toll plaza, tune your radio to WTMC (1380 AM) for traffic reports. Before starting your trip, check the Delaware Department of Transportation Web site, www.deldot.gov, for traffic conditions.

My new nominee for big trouble spot on the northeast route is the midsection of the New Jersey Turnpike, which is being widened between exits 6 and 9. Although all lanes are open at peak periods, they narrow and shift, and shoulders are closed.

●Driving west: Maryland’s major roads, including I-270, I-70 and routes 15 and 40, pass through a bottleneck at Frederick. As elsewhere, picking a route is only part of the job. Try to avoid starting your trip between 1 and 8 p.m. Friday.

Maryland plans summer road work along I-68 and I-70 in Washington and Allegany counties, but those projects do not include any long-term lane closings.

●Eastern Shore: The high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Route 50 are HOV all the time. The best Bay Bridge travel times for summer weekend getaways are Thursdays before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., Fridays before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., Saturdays before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m., Sundays before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., and holiday Mondays before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m. The regular car toll for the bridge is now $4, paid by eastbound traffic.

Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. The state is now part of the 511 traffic information system. Dial 511 from within the state and use the voice recognition system to get information about your route, or use the Web site: MD511.org.

●Southbound: Virginia has widened I-95 in southern Fairfax County. Even so, Friday afternoon traffic south of the District can be stop and go until Fredericksburg. Either leave by 11 a.m. or wait until after 8 p.m. Even better, head out between 6 and 8 a.m. Saturday. Heading back Sundays, or holiday Mondays, plan to arrive by noon and you’re more likely to miss those massive delays.

Get information through the 511 system. On the Web, it’s www.511Virginia.org.

●HOV lanes: HOV restrictions on I-66 and I-95/395 will be lifted on Memorial Day. The I-95/395 lanes will be southbound from 1 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday, and northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday through the rest of the holiday weekend.

The I-95/395 HOV lanes will be closed to regular traffic from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Sunday for the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally.

— Robert Thomson

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