Your Thanksgiving getaway questions
My online chat Monday drew dozens of questions and comments about the Thanksgiving getaway. These are some I didn't get a chance to address then.
Give it to me straight, doc. i can take it.
DC to Boston, in the car, on Wednesday. (I KNOW! But it was the only option.) I've noted your detour around the Newark toll plaza, and carefully planned a wide berth around the George Washington Bridge and the Cross-Bronx in the hope that the Palisades and the Tappan Zee will be faster (I know they'll be pleasanter to be stuck in, assuming I do get stuck).
My question is this: how long, realistically, should I expect this drive to take? It's normally about seven and a half hours; on Wednesday do you think I can get there in less than twelve? Will it be better if I get going before it even gets light out?
DG: I'm thinking add three hours to the normal trip time to Boston. But let me state this as a theme: It's impossible to predict how long a local trip, a trip to the airport or a long-distance trip will take on Wednesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving week. The traffic volumes will be huge. The December holidays have bad travel times, but they're nothing like Thanksgiving week, when people compress their getaway and return into a relatively short time. One fender-bender, one police car or emergency truck with lights flashing, one truck with a wide load can slow travel to crawl.
That said, I want to re-emphasize the significance of the delays expected at the Newark Toll Plaza, the one you hit on I-95 as you enter Delaware while heading north. See my posting about Thanksgiving's biggest bottleneck.
If I were going from here to Boston on Wednesday, I'd get out of here before 6 a.m., but understand that on a trip that long, I'm going to encounter somebody's rush hour somewhere. Given the warnings about Delaware and the fact that the destination is Boston, I'd do a wide swing to the north, taking the Baltimore Beltway to I-83 and connecting with I-81 around Harrisburg, Pa., and then I-78 to I-287. That would keep me away from the immediate New York City area.
I-287 would lead me up to the New York Thruway and across the Hudson at the Tappan Zee Bridge. I-287 across the bridge and through Westchester County, N.Y., can be difficult. There's a lot of traffic and a lot of construction around White Plains. But the Grid Spouse wouldn't let me add the miles it would take to go north on the Thruway all the way up to Newburgh, N.Y., where I'd cross the Hudson on I-84.
So instead, I'd drive through that White Plains bottleneck and pick up I-684 north, and head east on I-84 at Brewster. (In other seasons, I might just stay on I-287 across Weschester and pick up I-95 for the trip through New England, but on Wednesday, I'd really want to avoid 95 through Connecticut -- and especially the perennial bottleneck at New Haven.
Still, on my more northerly excursion, there would likely be traffic around Danbury, Conn., then again at Hartford, Conn., and again at Sturbridge, Ma., where I'd go through the toll plaza for the Massachusetts Turnpike and Boston.
Hi, Like many, I'll be heading up to the NYC metro area this week. I need to leave Tuesday after 5 p.m. (I know, I know). I've heard how bad the delays around the Delaware toll plaza are supposed to be and am considering a route through Harrisburg, PA instead. Think that'll be any better? Other suggestions?
DG: Yes, for the reasons stated above, I think the Harrisburg route is likely to be better, even though it adds mileage. Tuesday night is definitely better than Wednesday night. I'd wait as long after 5 p.m. as you feel comfortable with. While I often recommend late-night trips during peak travel seasons, there's an important thing to consider: You've got to stay awake. If you travel at times your body tells you that you should be asleep, there are going to be issues.
[Update: Frequent commenter 1995hoo suggested I point out to returning travelers on Sunday that the Redskins have a 1 p.m. game at FedEx Field just off the Capital Landover. Even under normal circumstances that would crowd the eastern side of the Beltway, especially around the Landover Road, Arena Drive and Central Avenue exits. Long-distance travelers returning from Thanksgiving along I-95 would be better off swinging west when they reach the Beltway and crossing over the Legion Bridge.]
Baltimore to Fairfax County
I have to make the drive from Baltimore to Centreville in western Fairfax County Wednesday afternoon what is the best way to do so? Is I-70 west to Fredrick and then 15 south the best way to go? I assume it will be good to avoid 95 and the Capital Beltway if I can.
DG: One of the reasons Wednesday afternoon is so bad is that you're driving in a combination of getaway traffic and regular commuter traffic. While we all say that timing is more important than route, some people -- including families with school children -- just don't have the flexibility to make a midnight escape on Tuesday night.
On the Baltimore-Centreville trip, there's no good route to recommend on Wednesday afternoon. I'm not sure there's much to be gained by that wide swing to the west, since I-70 is likely to be crowded, and there's bound to be heavy traffic at the junctions in Frederick.
Still, as the commenter noted, there's also bound to be heavy traffic on I-95 and the Capital Beltway. Two points of especially heavy congestion will be the I-95/Beltway interchange and the Beltway/I-270 interchange. Traffic heading for Virginia on the Beltway's outer loop will want to stay as far left as possible. The right two lanes are likely to be jammed with cars lining up for I-270.
Here's one variation: Start from Baltimore on I-95 south, but get off at Route 100 and head west to pick up Route 29, also known as I-95 Lite, and head south to the Beltway. This wouldn't be trouble free: You'd likely encounter congestion in the right lane in the Four Corners area as other drivers also prepare to enter the Beltway's outer loop.
I-66 Wednesday travel
Hi Dr. Gridlock, We're headed to Luray on Wednesday. We can leave any time. What would you suggest to minimize delays? Should we avoid I-66 altogether? We typically travel through Front Royal rather than go over the mountain. Thanks very much for your guidance! Best, The O'Brien's
DG: If you could leave real early on Wednesday -- getting started even before the morning rush, if possible -- then I think you'd be fine on I-66. Later in the day, it's going to be awful westbound, especially around the Capital Beltway and then after Gainesville, where it narrows to two lanes in each direction.
Some people like to get off I-66 at Gainesville and pick up Routes 29 and 15. Then they pick up Route 211 in Warrenton. They stay on 211 through Sperryville and across the mountains to Luray. It's a pretty trip, but I haven't done it at holiday times.
Early holiday travel
I plan on leaving the Arlington area headed for Long Island, NY, on Tuesday night. Should I anticipate other early holiday travelers on the road at, say, 8 p.m. also?
DG: Absolutely. The holiday getaway already has begun. But you'll be better off on Tuesday night than on Wednesday afternoon and evening. If you can leave Arlington at 8 p.m. or later, you should be okay, even if you take the standard route of I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike. ("Okay" doesn't mean congestion free, especially around the Newark Toll Plaza.)
Best route to I-70?
Any suggestions for an alternate route to I-70 W? My family is in northeast Ohio and I take 270 N out of the city. It's usually not too terrible, but as I'm crawling towards Frederick I start to wonder if the back roads are any faster.
DG: "Back roads" isn't a term we hear much in the D.C. suburbs. You could try Route 355, also know as Rockville Pike or North Frederick Road or the Urbana Pike, depending on what part of it you are on. That's basically parallel and near to I-270. Closer to the Potomac River, there's Route 28 to Route 15. But pretty much everybody is going to wind up in Frederick to make connections with I-70, and as you note, that area is going to be crowded.
Advice for airports (esp. BWI) on Weds?
Friends and family are all discussing how much time we need to leave to get to and through BWI on Wednesday night. Is being at the airport three hours before departure reasonable? too much? too little? Will the hourly and daily lots at BWI be full on Wednesday? Will 95 be smooth between DC and BWI Wednesday afternoon? We promise we won't blame you if we miss the flight, but your view on what's reasonable to expect would be welcome!
DG: Thanks, because anything I say now can turn out to be wrong by the time you actually do it. With that in mind, I would indeed plan on getting to the airport three hours before flight time. BWI has gotten much more efficient on ticketing and screening over the past two years, but at the holidays, you've got lots of inexperienced air travelers to slow things down.
Don't anticipate a smooth trip on I-95 on Wednesday night. Most airport-bound drivers will get off I-95 at I-195. If it's stop-and-go for you on I-95 after Laurel, you could bail out sooner -- at Route 32 or Route 100 -- and pick up the Baltimore Washington Parkway northbound to complete the trip to the airport.
Reagan National is the local airport where parking has the greatest tendency to get scarce at the holidays. When we're leaving from BWI on shortish trips, we like to park at the Daily Garage. It's more expensive than the long-term satellite lots, but it's a shorter bus ride to the terminal, and it has those nice green and red lights along the parking aisles to tell you where space is available.
Very helpful: The BWI Twitter site. It has frequent updates on parking availability for BWI.
Flying on Wednesday- eeeek!
I'm flying out of DCA on Wednesday evening (first time flying at Thanksgiving in years). Planning to check-in online and take a carry-on. How early do I need to get to the airport? I was thinking two hours should be plenty of time to get through security, but I'm starting to get nervous about the planned scan boycott.
DG: See what The Post's Derek Kravitz says about dealing with Thanksgiving airport security. (Kravitz also notes that more than 1,400 parking spaces were added to the daily parking garages at National this year.) Also see Michael Bolden's posting on what to expect from TSA screening.
I don't like the intrusive pat-downs. (Is the government really telling us there's no other way to secure these flights than to grab our private parts?) But I don't support the notion of a boycott. That would just hurt too many innocent travelers who want only to get home for the holiday.
But I think that scanner boycott efforts are likely to be less of an issue for you at National than the simple fact that you'll be in the security line with many travelers who fly only at the holidays and don't know the rules about carrying liquids. Still, I think your plan for being on line with your carry-on two hours before flight time should work out.
| November 23, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
Categories: Airports, Driving, Getaways | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, travel tips
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