Completion of three big highway projects along familiar summer getaway routes should make travel easier during this vacation season — if only because the orange barrels and dump trucks are out of the way.
Those improvements all involve tolls, something many drivers just hate. One place they will catch a break is on the route to the Eastern Shore, where the Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll will drop on July 1.
The veteran vacationers who have contributed many of the summertime tips you will see below have one essential tip: When the launching point for a getaway is a region as crowded as ours, there are no undiscovered shortcuts.
Many will get their first chance to test the advice on Memorial Day weekend. Even with the completion of the express lanes, I-95 south of the Capital Beltway is likely to remain the Traffic Godzilla for all getaway traffic from Washington. Watch for southbound traffic on I-95 to build by early afternoon.
Here’s our guide to the main summer escape routes.
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).
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 (cash toll $6 paid eastbound, dropping to $4 on July 1), 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.
For those with some flexibility in their schedules, 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 on I-95, the I-95 Express Toll Lanes are open for eight miles in the middle of the interstate. This is an all-electronic tolling system in which drivers pay via E-ZPass or are mailed a bill based on a video image taken of their license plates. Even if you don’t choose the toll lanes, having them open should ease the trip through the regular lanes.
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 New Jersey Turnpike has been widened between interchanges 6 and 9 in the central part of the state. Tune to WKXW (101.5 FM) for New Jersey traffic reports.
New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge remains open as construction continues on a replacement span to take I-87/287 over the Hudson River.
Deep Creek Lake
Classic route: I-270 to I-70 west to I-68 west to Exit 14A at Keysers Ridge, Md., 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. Try to avoid starting your trip between 1 and 8 p.m. Fridays.
If you absolutely hate that traffic around Frederick, one traveler suggested bypassing the area by following Route 7 west past Leesburg and linking up around Winchester with Route 522, which will eventually connect with I-70.
Between school closing and Labor Day, the roads around Deep Creek Lake can get very crowded. There are peaceful state parks with cabins along the way west, including New Germany and Herrington Manor. At Frederick, vacationers could swing north on Route 15 to cabins at Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont.
The Maryland State Highway Administration has some highway repair projects in the western part of the state this summer, but they are unlikely to severely affect traffic flow during the peak travel times.
Watch for road work on Route 15 (Catoctin Mountain Highway) in Frederick County, on the I-70 bridge over Route 63 in Hagerstown, on the Route 40 bridge over I-70 in Beaver Creek and on I-68 in Finzel. The work on the I-68 bridge in Cumberland that began in 2013 is scheduled to be done in June.
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. This does have the advantage of bypassing potential slowdowns in Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury, but the route is narrow and crowded in sections.
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.
Headlight use is required at all times on the bridge. At peak periods, the westbound span is sometimes realigned for two-way traffic. In that case, the five lanes on the left side of the toll plaza are directed to that span. Drivers who want an E-ZPass Only lane for the exclusively eastbound span should use toll lanes 6 or 9.
Maryland offers traffic information for the bridge at www.baybridge.com. To get information about your entire route, dial 511 from within the state and use the voice-recognition system, or use the Web site www.md511.org.
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: South of 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 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 ($6 cash toll for cars collected southbound), then connect with Route 17 south. Drivers starting southbound trips from west of the D.C. area may avoid some of the I-95 congestion by taking Routes 29 and 17 to the Fredericksburg area.
Travel tips: I-95 traffic southbound on Friday afternoon and northbound Sunday afternoon between the District and Fredericksburg is notorious. The 95 Express Lanes should help, but as with the 495 Express Lanes on the west side of the Beltway in Virginia, drivers need E-ZPasses for the toll system.
The express lanes, which opened in December, seem to be working fine, except for the slowdown for southbound traffic where the lanes end and merge with the regular lanes. This slowdown occurs north of Garrisonville Road in Stafford County.
When driving south in the express lanes, watch for signs alerting you to the traffic conditions ahead. If the signs report congestion, you may want to bail out and get back into the regular lanes before paying more tolls to travel in slow-moving traffic. There won’t be any permanent fix this summer.
For travels anywhere in Virginia, vacationers can consult the 511 system by dialing 555 or checking the Web site at www.511virginia.org.