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July 4 holiday travel tips

When it comes to holiday getaways, there's Thanksgiving and then there's everything else. Travel for the July 4 weekend tends to be more local than the epic rides we endure at Thanksgiving. Plus, it's already summer vacation season, the kids are out of school and a lot of the getaway traffic in the D.C. area already has gotten away.

Still, if you're planning a long weekend at the Eastern Shore or the Outer Banks or the Blue Ride, the drive won't be a picnic. You should expect extra-heavy traffic from about noon Friday till late evening. Local highways will be very crowded again Monday afternoon and evening as travelers return.

Here are some tips from transportation officials, experts and other travelers.

All the local highway departments will pull up their orange barrels by noon Friday and won't replace the temporary barriers till Tuesday. But in those areas where the construction is long-term, drivers may still experience delays in the heavy volumes of Friday and Monday. For example, the western side of the Beltway in Virginia and the Intercounty Connector construction zone along I-95 will have those lane shifts and uneven pavement to slow down drivers.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The Maryland Transportation Authority says almost 470,000 vehicles will travel over the Bay Bridge from Thursday through Monday. These are the best crossing times:
-- Thursday before noon and after 9 p.m.
-- Friday before noon and after 10 p.m.
-- Saturday before 7 a.m. and between 5 and 10 p.m.
-- Sunday between 7 and 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
-- Monday before 11 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Traveling Northeast
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: 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 to just before Allentown, Pa., then Route 22 to Route 33 to I-80 across the top of New Jersey.

Note: A reader asked me to remind everyone thinking about the alternatives that you should get onto the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) and head for I-83 before you get to Baltimore, rather than go through the Fort McHenry Tunnel and pay that toll.

Driving Delaware
The service area in the median of I-95 has reopened. Closed since September, it got a complete makeover. No more waiting for New Jersey to use a restroom.

Traveling South
Friday afternoon traffic can be stop and go all the way to Fredericksburg. It will be the same coming back Monday.

I-95/395 HOV lanes:
[Updated at 2:30 p.m. Thursday] Normal HOV-3 restrictions will be in place on Friday. That means that from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., drivers who meet the requirements can use the lanes northbound. From 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., driver who meet the requirements can use the lanes southbound.

At other hours, these reversible lanes are open to all traffic, but note the direction of traffic flow for this holiday weekend:
-- The lanes will be southbound from noon Friday till 2 p.m. Saturday, then again from 9 p.m. Sunday through 1 a.m. Monday. (This will help traffic leaving the District after the fireworks.)
-- The lanes will be northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday till 7:30 p.m. Sunday, then again from 3 a.m. Monday till 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The HOV restrictions will be lifted on Monday, the federal holiday, but will be back in effect on Tuesday.

Here's some advice from the Virginia Department of Transportation:
I-77/I-81 in Wythe County: High traffic volumes could slow or stop vehicles through this eight-mile section.

Route 17, Gloucester County: Motorists should be alert for construction barriers on Route 17 just north of the Coleman Bridge Toll Plaza at Gloucester Point. Estimated completion date of the Route 17 widening project is October.

I-64 Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel: Motorists traveling to Virginia Beach should use the I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel as an alternative to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. To Virginia Beach, take I-664 south to the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. Then take exit 15A, the Portsmouth/Norfolk exit, to I-264 east to Virginia Beach.

To the Outer Banks: Use I-664 and the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel. From I-664 south, take I-64 west to exit 292, the Chesapeake Expressway/Interstate 464/Route 17 exit. Keep left to continue to the Chesapeake Expressway/Route 168 by taking exit 192B, the Nags Head/Great Bridge exit, south to the Outer Banks.

I-64 HOV lanes: Carpool restrictions will be lifted Monday on I-64. The reversible roadway will be open to all westbound traffic from 1 to 11 a.m. and then to all eastbound traffic from 1 to 11 p.m. HOV reversible lane directions may shift throughout the three-day weekend depending on road conditions and traffic volumes.

Jamestown-Scotland Ferry: The summer ferry schedule is in effect through Labor Day.

Online sources of traffic information:
-- For Virginia, look at
-- For Maryland, look at
-- For regional information, look at our Traffic page.
-- This is The Weather Channel's page for forecasts along the Interstates and our own Capital Weather Gang.
-- The Federal Highway Administration also has a page of Traffic and Road Closure information nationwide.

By Robert Thomson  | June 30, 2010; 7:42 PM ET
Categories:  Getaways  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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Thanks -- this is very useful. Are there any construction-related lane/road closures for the beltway HOT and Dulles Metro construction in the Friday-Monday period? The various e-alerts are usually last minute for this stuff, and I need to advise relatives in advance.

Posted by: bgs36 | June 30, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: bgs36, all the construction work in Virginia will stop by noon on Friday and won't resume till Tuesday. There won't be any temporary lane or ramp or roadway closings during that time for the HOT lanes or Dulles Metrorail work.

What I'm warning about in the posting is that the long-term lane closings will remain in place. Basically, the orange barrels and cones will come up for the weekend but not the concrete barriers.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | July 1, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

A further thought on Dr. Gridlock's point is that the ruts in the pavement caused by lane shifts (you know how when they remove the striping it leaves those ruts behind?) will still be there. Also, to the extent there are people on the roads who aren't from the DC area, or who come through here only a few times a year, you can expect the roadwork will slow them down, especially if they go through the HOT lane project where many of the overhead signs have been removed in order to widen the Beltway.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 1, 2010 11:06 PM | Report abuse

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