Thanksgiving's biggest bottleneck
What do Thanksgiving travelers fear the most: An airport pat-down, or Delaware?
If we did a poll, I think Delaware would win in a landslide. The pat-down is over faster. Driving through the I-95 toll plaza in Delaware this week could take hours. We've talked a lot about the impending congestion and avoidance techniques. Here's a summary of what we know now, but we'll post any developments as the big travel week continues.
What's wrong with Delaware?
The Delaware toll plaza was born bad, but this week may be the worst in its infamous history as a major East Coast bottleneck. It's in a good cause: The Delaware Department of Transportation is building highway-speed E-ZPass lanes in the middle of the Newark Toll Plaza, which should begin to ease traffic flow when they're done next summer.
For now, the construction is constricting traffic flow, as you can see in the photo above. All the lanes that can be open for the holidays will be open, but there will be fewer open booths at the toll plaza, and the regular E-ZPass lanes to the left on the northbound side will merge from three to one just after the toll plaza. (On the southbound side, the lane configuration is quite tight till it opens up somewhat just before drivers reach the tolls. Again, the dedicated E-ZPass lanes are on the left.)
The holiday congestion may never again be as bad when the project is done, but memories of this holiday season should last a long time.
Advice for the plaza
This may be the most important thing in your planning: The toll plaza, charging $4 each way for cars, is a huge revenue source for Delaware, yet Delaware officials are warning drivers to avoid it during the peak periods of Thanksgiving week.
The Delaware Department of Transportation says the severe backups are likely to begin Tuesday morning and continue through next Monday evening. On Wednesday, the department predicts, the backups will be less before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Even Thanksgiving Day is projected to have a period of heavy congestion, lasting from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. northbound. Southbound on Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., could be especially troublesome. Southbound on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. looks bad. Sunday's worst southbound hours could be 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
But with the heavy holiday volumes and the tight space, any hour could prove problematic.
Even if you have E-ZPass, you aren't going to gain too much advantage at the most congested times. You will be crawling along with everyone else for miles before you reach the point where the lanes open up for the toll plaza and you can reach the booths dedicated to E-ZPass users.
Avoiding the plaza
These routes have been recommended by travelers for those northbound drivers wishing to dodge the toll plaza:
-- I-95 to Route 279 toward Newark, then right onto Iron Hill Road, then left onto Chestnut Hill Road, then right onto Route 896 (South College Avenue), then back onto I-95. (Last time I posted this one, some travelers wrote in to say people shouldn't use it because it involves local streets. They preferred the next one.)
-- Take Route 279 to Elkton Road, which becomes Route 2. Then go north about two miles, right on Route 4 (Christiana Parkway) for about a mile, then right again on College Avenue, with I-95 ahead.
-- Other travelers from the D.C. area go across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and take Route 301 north over the scenic Eastern Shore up to I-95/495 in Delaware, east of the toll plaza.
Warning: All these dodges are well known to many veteran travelers. Given the holiday volumes, all are likely to be congested, but they may still provide some relief, given our expectations about the Newark Toll Plaza.
There's an east and a west way from the D.C. area north to Pennsylvania and then east to New Jersey and New York.
Eastern way. Take I-95 or the Baltimore Washington Parkway to the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) and take that west and north around the city to I-83 and go north to the Harrisburg, Pa., area. From there, you can link up with I-76, I-81 and I-78 to head east.
Western way. From the Leesburg area, take U.S. 15 north across the Potomac. Or for Marylanders, take I-270 west to Frederick and pick up U.S. 15. (Many people regard this as back-tracking. Why go west to go east? But advocates say it's still better than spending time on the hated I-95.) U.S. 15 will take you to the Harrisburg area, where again, you can pick up I-76, I-81 and I-78.
Warning: These inland routes take you to higher elevations than coastal I-95. Stay in touch with the weather forecast.
Here's a look at the lane configuration at the Newark Toll Plaza, showing the highway speed E-ZPass lanes under construction in the middle, between the northbound and southbound toll booths.
| November 22, 2010; 4:40 PM ET
Categories: Driving, Getaways | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips
Save & Share: Previous: What to expect from TSA screening
Next: Pilot violates restricted airspace
Posted by: seraphina21 | November 22, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1995hoo | November 22, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mar237 | November 22, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: vuac | November 22, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mcrochip | November 23, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1995hoo | November 23, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: guwoman | November 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: charlesmurphy85 | November 23, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jckdoors | November 23, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thetan | November 23, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Irato | November 23, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: joeyjoe | November 23, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 1995hoo | November 23, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: spf_zero | November 23, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: vmax02rider | November 23, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thetan | November 23, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | November 24, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: tioli | November 24, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tioli | November 24, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse