By tradition, this weekend marks the start of the summer travel season. We have our own tradition of offering
some tips on how to drive out of the D.C. region toward holiday destinations without losing that good vacation vibe.
These are among the most popular routes.
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: For the many who hate the tolls and congestion, consider I-95 to I-695 around 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.
Some drivers dodge the Delaware toll plaza on I-95 by taking 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, drivers can reach I-295 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Others stick with I-95 but skirt the toll plaza by taking Route 279 toward Newark, Del. Turn 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.
Travel tips: The Newark toll plaza remains a serious bottleneck for I-95 drivers during construction of highway-speed E-ZPass lanes in the middle. The scheduled completion date is Aug. 15. Northbound and southbound toll lanes have been reduced in the work zone. This affects the cash lanes and the dedicated E-ZPass lanes.
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.
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: The way west through Maryland is difficult because major roads, including I-270, I-70 and Routes 15 and 40, pass through a bottleneck at Frederick. This illustrates why picking a route is only part of the job. Travel times are relative, said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration: “relative to whether it is raining, relative to traveling at 4 p.m. on Friday or 6 a.m. Saturday, relative to if there is a disabled truck on the shoulder or relative to the sun glare.” Try to avoid starting your trip between 1 and 8 p.m. Fridays, have a map to review options on detours, stay patient and make driving a full-time responsibility, Buck said. A bit of planning and car care (such as checking wiper fluid, oil, gas, lights and tire pressure) go a long way to avoiding extensive delays and frustration.
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 18, a scenic byway just east of the Bay Bridge, and 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 Thursday before 2 p.m., Friday before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., Saturday before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m., and Sunday before 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
The regular car toll for the bridge is $2.50, paid in the eastbound direction. Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. That includes traffic camera-views. Information about highway conditions statewide is available through Maryland’s CHART system, at www.traffic.md.gov.
Classic route: I-95 south, to I-295 south, to I-64 east, to I-664 south, I-64 west 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.
Travel tips: Friday afternoon traffic south of the District can be stop and go to Fredericksburg. Throw in an accident or broken-down vehicle, and you can count on adding an hour or two to your trip, said Joan Morris, Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman. The Sunday crawl — north and south — starts about noon and keeps building. Heading out of town on a Friday, 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 into the Washington area on a Sunday, plan to arrive by noon and you’re much more likely to miss those massive delays, Morris said.
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. A mobile version of the Web site is at mobile511virginia.org. Pull over when using a mobile phone, or have a passenger make the call.