Summer getaway guide for D.C. area drivers

Robert Thomson
Columnist May 18, 2012

Vacation-bound travelers can dream all they want about their favorite lobster pounds, taffy shacks and boat drinks. I know something just as good: the first full summer with highway-speed E-ZPass lanes at Delaware’s I-95 toll plaza.

Prefer your own visions, you say? Well, for many thousands on the heavily traveled routes north of the District, my travel-time image could mean an extra day at the beach.

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

Still, on any vacation getaway in any direction, for Memorial Day weekend or the summer travel season, long-distance driving is no dream. Here are some tips I’ve collected from travelers who make these drives.

Northeast Corridor

●Classic route: Interstate 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 and Harrisburg, Pa., then I-81 to I-78. 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.

Or take Route 50 across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, to Route 301 to State Road 896 (Churchtown/Boyds Corner Road) to Route 1 and Route 13. From there, drivers can reach I-295 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. 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: 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 at www.deldot.gov for traffic conditions.

But my new nominee for 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, as in Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes work zone. 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 and 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, gateway to the West during the nation’s early days, when travelers moved along it at about 10 mph. 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, have a map to review options on detours and be patient.

Me, I’m going to start my Memorial Day weekend drive within the Friday frustration zone, because like many of you, we can’t leave very early or very late Friday, and Saturday morning is too late. Pity me, and the thousands who will be stuck on I-270 to Frederick. I’ll Tweet about it when I’m not driving.

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

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 HOV 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 now is $4, paid eastbound.

Maryland plans lane closings on routes 50 and 404 over the summer, but not on eastbound Route 50 after noon Fridays or on westbound Route 50 on Sunday nights.

Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. That includes traffic-camera views. 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.

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).

●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), then connect with Route 17 south.

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

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

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local