For this summer’s getaways, drivers face new challenges on I-95 in Northern Virginia

Robert Thomson
Columnist May 17, 2013

For drivers seeking to break free of the congested D.C. region for their summer getaways, this year’s trouble spot is likely to be Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia.

“We’re in for a very busy construction season here on I-95,” said Kevin Ginnerty, an official with Transurban, the company working on the 95 Express Lanes project in the middle of the highway.

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. View Archive

Summer drivers know that I-95 doesn’t need any help to be bad. On Friday and Sunday afternoons, volume can wreck the vacation vibe. The construction in the middle of I-95 along the 29 miles between Edsall and Garrisonville roads will be much more noticeable this summer than last, when it was just starting.

Dealing with that corridor is likely to be the top challenge for vacation drivers but not the only one. So let’s go around the compass to review some of the main escape hatches for summer travelers.

Northeast corridor

●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).


Tracing routes for vacation season

●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. This summer, Route 13 may be the easier of the two I-95 interchanges as road work continues at Route 1, although the last miles on Route 13 pass through a congested commercial zone.

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, the Maryland House is closed for reconstruction. Drivers on I-95 north will need to go 14 more miles to reach the Chesapeake House in North East, Md.

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 midsection of the New Jersey Turnpike between exits 6 and 9 remains a construction zone. Although all lanes are open at peak periods, they narrow and shift, and the speed limit drops to 55 mph. Tune to WKXW (101.5 FM) for New Jersey traffic reports.

Deep Creek Lake

●Classic route: I-270 to I-70 west to I-68 west to Exit 14A at Keysers Ridge, 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. As elsewhere, picking a route is only part of the job. 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 remind you of the highway congestion you fought through to get there. So consider that there are peaceful state parks with cabins along the way west, including New Germany and Herrington Manor. Travelers can make reservations on the Department of Natural Resources Web site at ­www.dnr.maryland.gov.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has some road resurfacing and repair projects this summer, but nothing that is likely to severely affect traffic flow during the peak travel times.

Eastern Shore

●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, 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 $4, paid eastbound. On July 1, it will rise to $6.

New lane markings and rumble strips have been installed on the westbound span. Lane changes between the left and center lanes are prohibited for the entire span.

Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. To get information about your 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: After 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 Exit 50 to 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 ($4 car toll, southbound, but that will rise to $6 July 1). Then connect with Route 17 south.

●Travel tips: Friday afternoon traffic south of the District can be stop and go to Fredericksburg, but this summer, factor in construction on the express lanes in that area. There will be daytime lane closings on I-95 during off-peak hours; multiple lane closings overnights, including some complete traffic stoppages for up to half an hour; detours of all traffic onto Route 1 on nights when steel girders are placed; extended closings of the I-95 high-occupancy vehicle lanes overnights and on weekends; and construction trucks turning into and out of the work areas.

Meanwhile, Route 301 drivers may encounter off-peak lane closings for a cleaning and painting project on the Nice Bridge.

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 telephone in Virginia.

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