Commuter Page

Fed up with holiday congestion? Consider these other paths.

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

Northeast Corridor

Traditional route: Interstate 95 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike to northern New Jersey, New York and New England.


Obstacle course: Of all the routing and timing questions I get, it's the Northeast escape that dominates the conversation. Drivers just hate the congestion and the tolls. Last year, we offered an alternative that takes drivers along Route 50 across the Bay Bridge, to Route 301 to state road 896 (Churchtown/Boyds Corner Road) to Route 1 and Route 13. From there, they can reach I-295 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. But this year, we thought we'd offer the northern course that really gets around I-95. We're still showing the route around the Delaware toll, because people just demand it.

Delaware: So much driver anger against such a small state. Traffic is almost always heavy, even away from the hated toll plaza. And this year, the one rest area in the median of I-95 is closed. Remember that as you approach the Chesapeake House in Maryland heading north. The next rest area after the Delaware Memorial Bridge will be the John Fenwick on the northbound side. Coming back on the turnpike, look for the Clara Barton service area on the southbound side.

E-ZPass: It's getting easier as states install dedicated lanes on the left sides of their toll plazas. Remember to stay left on the toll plaza approach if you have a transponder.

The return: Don't wait till the Sunday afternoon football game is over. Don't even wait till Sunday. On the other hand, watch out for the drowsiness that often follows a full Thanksgiving meal. Note one traffic change on I-95 south approaching Baltimore: It's at the split where southbound traffic either continues on I-95 toward the Fort McHenry Tunnel or takes I-895 toward the Harbor Tunnel and onto I-97 toward Annapolis. The long-standing traffic pattern changed this summer. Stay left to take I-95, or go right to take I-895 toward I-97. Your GPS device might not have caught up with this change.

-- Alternative 1: Avoiding I-95

Route: Baltimore Washington Parkway to I-695 north around the west side of Baltimore to I-83 north to I-81 north, just east of Harrisburg, Pa. Follow I-81 north, then take I-78 east into New Jersey. There, drivers can take I-287 and cross the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge. Or they can take the New Jersey Turnpike north to the George Washington Bridge, or stay on I-78 east to reach the Holland Tunnel.

Advantages: It's not I-95, and that's enough for many. But at peak travel periods, such as Thanksgiving, it's also likely to be less congested, and it's definitely cheaper. The scenery is better, too.

Advisories: It's about 65 more miles than the standard I-95 route. You won't necessarily get there faster. The terrain is more mountainous in sections, so watch the weather.

-- Alternative 2: Avoiding the Delaware Toll Plaza

Route: From I-95 north, take Route 279 toward Newark, Del. Take the first right onto Iron Hill Road. At the end, turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Then turn right onto Route 896 (South College Avenue). I-95 will be a quarter-mile down the road.

Advantages: It saves a car driver $4 at the Newark toll plaza, and for some, that's enough reason to stray from heavily tolled I-95. It also avoids the congestion around the plaza.

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