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On to Richmond for holidays

By Robert Thomson

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Thank you for the very helpful article (Holiday road warriors, take note) in the Sunday Washington Post. I would appreciate your providing similar information for those of us who travel to Richmond, and return; as well as Norfolk, and return.

The worst part of these trips is around Fredericksburg -- and I-64 from I-295 to Norfolk and back (depending on the season and day of week).
John Meier, Vienna

Virginia bottlenecks
Interstate 95 between D.C. and Richmond draws many complaints from southbound holiday travelers. Look at the list of Virginia areas likely to experience heavy congestion on Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week. You'll see that Richmond routes play a prominent role among them:
-- Interstate 95 between Richmond and the Springfield Interchange
-- I-66 eastbound and westbound in Northern Virginia
-- I-81/I-77 interchange near Wytheville
-- I-81 near Lexington to south of Roanoke
-- I-64/I-95 in the Richmond area

Alternatives to I-95 south
We've discussed several I-95 alternatives, but they don't bring much joy, because holiday drivers still run into congestion, they may find the alternatives complicated and they add miles to many trips.

Leaving the D.C. area and heading south, drivers to the east may prefer Route 301. If they're heading for Norfolk, they can pick up Route 17 in the Port Royal area. (See more below about Route 17.) Or they could stick with 301 all the way down to its junction with I-295 north of Richmond. I-295 will lead them either to I-95 and Richmond or to I-64, the route to Norfolk and the Tidewater area.

Some travelers who live on the western side of the D.C. area take Route 28 from Manassas out to Route 17, but this is a very wide swing west around Quantico. Route 17 takes them back toward Fredericksburg. For a short stretch around Fredericksburg, Route 17 joins with I-95, then it splits again to join Route 1, then heads off east, passing to the north of Fort A.P. Hill, crossing Route 301, passing through Yorktown and crossing I-64 in the Newport News area and on to Norfolk.

Some driving tips
The Virginia Department of Transportation lifts the HOV restrictions on Thanksgiving Day. The department also pulls up the orange cones and stops construction around the holidays, but that doesn't affect long-term features such as concrete barriers and lane shifts, such as those you see around the Capital Beltway's Telegraph Road interchange, the HOT lanes construction zone on the western side of the Beltway and the Fairfax County Parkway work zone in Newington.

On I-95, a fourth lane has been added in each direction between Route 1 and the Fairfax County Parkway.

By calling 511 in Virginia or visiting, people can get directions and information about traffic incidents, bridges and tunnels and road construction.

What would you add?
It seems to me there aren't too many options on the coastal routes south. It's a narrow corridor, compared to the Northeast corridor that so many other travelers ask about. Am I missing some worthwhile advice for trips south?

By Robert Thomson  | November 16, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Driving, Events, Getaways  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, travel tips  
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I expect heavy traffic but when there's an accident on 95 both north and south bound lanes become severely backed up. I left Williamsburg very early one Sunday morning and there were three accidents on 95 south: one just north of Richmond, one just south of Fredericksburg, and one further north of Fredericksburg. We drove up 95 at a snail's pace because of the rubbernecking, but southbound 95 from north of Frederricksburg to Richmond was a giant parking lot.

Posted by: blackforestcherry | November 16, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Going south is tricky because it's so dependent on where you're going and because the Rappahannock River is an obstacle.

As Dr. Gridlock says, for Norfolk or Hampton Roads it's often a good option to take US-301 through Maryland. Coming from the Wilson Bridge, you can either take MD-5 south towards Waldorf or take MD-210 south to Accokeek and then MD-228 east to Waldorf, where you pick up US-301 south. Either route is a good one. Then you can take US-17 on down to Norfolk. (Note that on this route there is a toll on the US-301 bridge over the Potomac, southbound only, and a toll on the US-17 bridge over the York River. Both accept E-ZPass.) US-17 may not be as high-speed as I-295 and I-64 (especially with the 70-mph speed limit), but it gets substantially less traffic.

A much longer route that is likely to get SUBSTANTIALLY less traffic to Norfolk and Hampton Roads is to go over the Bay Bridge and take US-50 to US-13 at Salisbury, then go south over the bridge-tunnel. Much longer drive distance-wise, though.

Another possibility if you dislike I-64 between Richmond and Norfolk is to take I-295 south past I-64 to US-460 near Petersburg, then follow US-460 southeast to Suffolk. You'll pick up I-64 or I-264 where they meet on the west side of Hampton Roads. US-460 is a pretty good road, but WATCH YOUR SPEED. There are often a lot of cops. Or you could use VA-5 along the north shore of the James River for a scenic alternative (though a bit slower). Very pretty drive that puts you into Williamsburg at Confusion Corner in front of William & Mary.

The problem with taking US-1 south from the DC area as an alternate to I-95 is that you get stuck at the traffic light at the corner of US-17 Business and US-1 just north of the Rappahannock and it takes forever to get through that one light.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 16, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

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