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How to beat the beach traffic

By Carol Sottili
Thursday, May 20, 2010; 3:29 PM

The 150-mile drive from Washington to Ocean City can be a tedious, teeth-clenching experience, especially between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Heading east, long stretches of traffic often form before the Severn River bridge, at the Bay Bridge toll booths, along Route 404, and in Easton, Cambridge and the final few miles before the beach. On the return trip, expect the usual Cambridge and Easton traffic, plus lengthy backups that often extend from Rabbit Hill Road (milepost 60 on Route 50) past the outlet malls at milepost 47.

However, there are tricks to make the ride less painful and more enjoyable. Pack these tips with your sunscreen:

If you're taking the Beltway to reach Route 50, check the traffic before committing. The Wilson Bridge expansion has helped ease traffic in both directions, so it's often faster to take the southern route. If the Beltway is backed up on the return trip, consider heading farther west to Route 295 (Kenilworth Avenue).

Buy an E-ZPass, which allows use of a dedicated lane leading to the Bay Bridge toll booth ($2.50 eastbound-only)Travelers can set up an E-ZPass account in any participating state, such as Virginia or Maryland. Info: www.ezpass.com.

The Bay Bridge opens a third lane for eastbound traffic beginning at 3 p.m. weekdays from May 1 to Sept. 30. On Saturdays between Memorial Day weekend and the third weekend in September, three lanes are available from 7 a.m. until noon. Call 877-229-7726 for up-to-the-minute bridge traffic conditions.

To miss the traffic snarls, leave Washington by noon on Friday or after rush hour. On Sunday, depart Ocean City by 8 a.m. or wait until evening. For week-long stays, most vacation condos rent Saturday to Saturday, so get to the Bay Bridge no later than 8 a.m. on the way to the beach and depart for home by 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. Or, consider a rental property that offers different starting and ending days.

The most direct route to Ocean City is Route 50 all the way. Until you cross the Bay Bridge, the only reasonable passage across the Chesapeake Bay, alternative roads won't save you much time. Once on Kent Island, Route 18 parallels Route 50, but it's a slow country road. Route 404 leads to the Delaware beaches and can be used to access Route 113, which leads to Route 90 or Route 50 into Ocean City. Short stretches of alternative roads appear along Route 50, such as routes 662, 322 and 585, but they often don't spare minutes unless Route 50 is stopped.

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