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In Search of Vacation Routes

Are we there yet? Is it wishful thinking, or are some of our commuter routes starting to show the effects of summer vacation?

With the long-distance travel season in mind, I'm looking for suggestions escape routes from Washington to the region's favorite destinations -- north, south, east and west. We'll display some of them on the Post Metro section's Commuter page this Sunday, July 1. The idea will be to give summer travelers an alternative to the typical routes. They don't have to be shortcuts, as in time or mileage savers. They might just be more pleasant routes than the interstates and major highways that most vacationers are used to taking.

I just got back from a weekend trip to northern New Jersey. Delaware continues to be the bane of East Coast travelers. The jams on I-95 are not as bad as they were last year, when the western side of the highway narrowed, but it's still unpleasant. Two of the westbound tollbooth lanes were under reconstruction, causing extensive backups. And there's work in the highway median on the eastern side of the state.

Are routes through Pennsylvania a better way to get to the Northeast during the summer? Do any of you have experience with the Cape May ferry? And for those of you who head west for vacations, what's the most enjoyable way to reach Deep Creek Lake or the Blue Ridge? Does anybody actually know an alternative to Route 50 heading for the Eastern Shore?

I've gotten some suggestions lately about the most pleasant ways to reach the Outer Banks, including using portions of Route 17, 32 and 94.

Please share your own suggestions with me at Tell us what you like about your route, including any highlights along the way (a favorite site, a favorite hotdog stand), give us an idea of the time it takes, and tell us how you discovered it in the first place. (Has it been handed down from generation to generation, or did you just get fed up with the traditional route and decide to experiment?) Tell us your name and home community, so we can give credit for the suggestion.

Live Online at 1 p.m. today: Please join me to today for a chat about all our local traffic and transit concerns. You can submit questions and comments ahead of time by using this link.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 25, 2007; 7:20 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway  
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Do you really think people are going to let you in on a secret detour to get to the beach or mountains? Then those by-ways will be as crowded as the main routes. Nope. My lips are sealed.

Posted by: Stay at Home & Out of Traffic | June 25, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I don't know if this would help a lot of people with vacations, but I use an alternate to US-29 for football trips to Charlottesville, and this route might be a viable alternative to the I-66/I-81 route for people heading southwest. Only thing is, during the summer the I-95 portion of this can be horrible.

(1) I-95 south to Exit 130 (VA-3). Take first ramp, going west towards Culpeper.

(2) Follow VA-3 for around 16 miles to Wilderness.

(3) Turn left onto VA-20 going towards Orange (a sign also notes Charlottesville). Put on your headlights since this is a two-lane road and the headlights help people see you when deciding whether to pass.

(4) At the second traffic light, turn left onto US-15.

(5) Follow US-15 south for about nine miles to the roundabout in Gordonsville.

(6) Take the second exit from the roundabout onto VA-231 south (the road in front of the Hardee's).

(7) VA-231 changes route numbers in Cismont (to VA-22), but this is irrelevant--just keep following the road on past Keswick until it dumps you into westbound US-250.

(8) Continuing straight on US-250 takes you to a junction with I-64. You can get on I-64 west towards I-81, or you can stay straight ahead into Charlottesville.

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Here's one - wait for a Monday in mid-to-late September. Then, timing for rush hour if applicable, take just about any highway you want right to where you want to go. The weather will still be nice and warm, as will the water (if you're headed for the beach), and it'll seem like you have the place to yourself. The locals will be rejoicing inside that they don't have to deal with the masses again for another year, and, unless you're camping, you're likely to find service that is noticeably more attentive and friendly.

Posted by: Toonsis | June 25, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Toonsis: Or wait until October-early November. I've been to Ocean City as late as the first weekend in November for a class reunion and it was gorgeous. However, the route through the mountains is congested because of the leaf peepers.

Posted by: Stay Home | June 25, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

The only problem with the idea of these "alternative routes", especially using that combination of 17 and other roads to reach the Outer Banks, is that they're only good if you LIKE spending 8 hours in the car instead of 5. The reality is that I95 to I64, while definitely more congested than the 17 route, is still faster, even with the congestion. This means that Route 17 is for people who enjoying wasting gas and increasing the amount of CO2 in the air, while spending hours longer in the car.

So, good job, Dr. Gridlock for encouraging more pollution and wasted gas.

Posted by: Brian | June 25, 2007 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Brian is right. We're wasting time and gas and polluting the air with CO2 while we devise round-about "alternate routes" on the fly. The irony is that these environmantal problems exist, largely thanks to anti-highway environmentalists.

For that reason, I never believe the environmentalists when they express their "concerns" about about the pollution caused by vehicles. Vehicles stuck in traffic and driving extra miles on alternate routes use more fossile fuel and pollute more (Duh!). In my opinion, their motive is simply stopping the construction of new roads and discouraging driving by making it as unpleasant and expensive as possible.

It's time we stopped letting road opponents do our transportation planning for us.

Until we put some fire to the feet of our elected officials, demand the urgently needed bypasses, and vote them out of office if they don't comply, we will continue to needlessly waste fuel, pollute, endager lives, and lose irreplacable time.

Other major (and not so major) cities have bypasses; note how congestion on I-95 disappears once we reach I-295 north of Richmond).

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

So why is it every other vehicle we see on the road is an SUV gas hog? They average about 15 miles per gallon. They sell for $30-55,000. The price of gas goes up at the whim of the big oil companies. What is the purpose of these vehicles, anyway, other than to intimidate other drivers. I've seen tiny blonde women navigating about in Escalades big enough to invade Third World countries. They're too big for novice drivers, evidenced by several fatal accidents with teen drivers.

So, they have 4 wheel drive. Big deal. If the snow is deep enough that I need a 4-wheel drive to get around I'm -- you guessed it -- staying home.

One more thing -- State Highways spent $10 million to put in an overpass at Routes 4 and 260 going toward some really small out of the way beaches. This isn't Ocean City. There isn't enough traffic going toward those residential communities to warrant a $10 million expense. A yellow light could have done the same job. Go figure.

Posted by: Stay Home | June 25, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Take. The. Train.

Posted by: Dakota Pants | June 25, 2007 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I was stuck in the same traffic in DE on I-95 last night and additional problems in MD between Baltimore and the Beltway where there is night paving work. The DE problem was by far the worst. It took us over 2 hours to travel from the DE Memorial Bridge to the MD border. No accident, it was all due to the work at the toll plaza. There cannot be a good reason for closing 3-4 Cash Toll Booths at one time. Looking on the map, if you are traveling from the NYC area or NJ, there are no good alternatives to get around this part of the I-95 corridor. Would love suggestions!

Posted by: Stuck on I95 | June 25, 2007 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am looking for an alternative to I-95 in DE, as I am going to West Chester PA on a weekend in August.

Any suggestions? How long will it take from MoCo?


Posted by: alternative to DE I95 | June 25, 2007 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Get off 95 while still in Maryland (Exit 80, I think); then take back roads to connect with Route 1. Most stretches of Rte 1 are basically highway- with no tolls and less traffic. Otherwise, scoot over to Rte 1 from 95 at Bel Air. Returning, check out the cool bridge/powerplant at Wicomico.

Posted by: West Chester | June 25, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

"Take. The. Train."

Not always, in fact not USUALLY, a solution.

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Stay Home,

I'm not sure what an anti-SUV rant has to do with the problem of inadeaquate road capacity. Care to enlighten us?

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Last summer I had to go to Trenton for a month on business, including all weekends except one. Traffic going north on the weekend was so bad that I wound up taking I-695 to I-83, then north to US-30 in York. I then went east to Reading and north to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and on across from there. Longer distance, but wound up being faster because there were no traffic jams and because the Pennsylvania Turnpike is a FAST road. People even stayed to the right to let people pass, wonder of wonders!

I don't know that I'd consider this a good route for going to West Chester because you'd have to go back south on I-476. But it would work for New York City (puts you into the NJ Turnpike at Exit 6). Or, for New York, my brother swears by going I-270 to Frederick, US-15 to Harrisburg, then I-81 to I-78 (takes you directly to the Holland Tunnel, or you can go down the Turnpike to I-278 for the Verrazano Bridge).

Regarding "Stay Home's" point, it seems to me that if people want to waste their money on excess gasoline to power an SUV, isn't that up to them?

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2007 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Take the train?? To the outer banks? Kings Dominion? Shenandoah National Park? Keep dreaming. At least you can take the train to NYC though. For whomever asked Dr. G. about getting to Atlantic City in today's chat, the train is actually a decent option for there. Take Amtrak from Union Station (or New Carrollton or BWI) to Philadelphia 30th Street, then take a New Jersey Transit Atlantic City Line train to AC. Amtrak will actually sell you one ticket for both trains (cheaper than buying both individually). The casinos all have shuttles that meet the trains.

For those looking to bypass Delaware I-95, try US Route 40. It connects right into the Delaware Memorial Bridge at the east end and you can connect with any route to get back to I-95 in Maryland. Heading north, its best to exit I-95 prior to the Millard E. Tydings Bridge since those tolls can get backed up too. When traffic isn't too bad, you can use Route 279 (at Exit 109 in Maryland), Routes 2, 4, and 896 (connects to Delaware Exit 1) to bypass the tolls. The detour takes about 5 to 7 minutes, and saves $3. This last route, I wouldn't try if you are heading out on a weekend trip from DC during the summer (works great for weekend trips into DC during the summer, and just about any other time of the year), but taking US 50 east over the Bay Bridge to US 301 to Route 299 east in Middletown Delaware to Route 1 north to US 13 north to I-295 is a fantastic way to beat I-95 traffic and save approx $10 in roundtrip tolls.

Rich, I have used your route between C-ville and NOVA many times when I was at UVA not too long ago. Its a great route, and while it doesn't really save much time over 29 it is certainly more scenic. Unfortunately, that route is basically a no-go during the summer, as I-95 is a parking lot and I-66 usually isn't all that bad once you pass Fair Oaks. You can also take Route 20 the entire way from Wilderness to C-ville...this works best if you are heading to the north side of town though. My favorite part of that particular route is right at the Orange/Albemarle County line...there is a parabolic hill where if you drive over it fast enough, you will experience "weightlessness" for a split second!

-Mike in Woodley Park, D.C.

Posted by: Woodley Park | June 25, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Toonsis, the Driving Cat. I will go to the beach when school is back in session and the highway congestion has shifted from Routes I-95 and US 50 to the Beltway. And the salt marsh mosquitoes aren't as bad in late September. And I won't have to put up with the simplistic bleating of CEEAF or Stay Home.

Posted by: Mister Methane | June 25, 2007 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Methane freak;

Don't like the "simplistic bleating"? Simple solution: Stay off the blog!

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Meth freak;

Don't like the "simplistic bleating"?

"Simplistic" solution: Stay off the blog!

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 5:57 PM | Report abuse

"Its a great route, and while it doesn't really save much time over 29 it is certainly more scenic."

That depends on where your trip starts, of course. I live just south of the Beltway in Fairfax County, so for me it saves 15 to 20 minutes over the I-66 to US-29 route most of the time (as long as I don't get stuck behind a real slowpoke on the two-lane roads).

I learned about the route when I was in school at UVA and had a roommate who lived just up the road from Mount Vernon.

I've also used VA-20 all the way a few times, but in my experience it takes a bit longer due to more sharp curves and fewer passing zones. Very nice road to drive on a nice day, though, and Montpelier is worth a visit at least once if you haven't been there. VA-20 also provides easy access to the wineries (Barboursville and Horton), which I think I will have to visit on the way to or from one of this year's games!

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2007 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"Other major (and not so major) cities have bypasses; note how congestion on I-95 disappears once we reach I-295 north of Richmond)."

Washington has a bypass, too. It's called the Capitol Beltway.

Posted by: Scott | June 25, 2007 8:48 PM | Report abuse

"Washington has a bypass, too. It's called the Capitol Beltway."

That is different than Richmond though. Richmond's bypass actually bypasses the region, as it is pretty much located outside of the major development, and does not serve nearly the amount of suburban office parks, subdivisions, etc. as the Beltway does. The Beltway might bypass the city of Washington, but in terms of the entire region, the Beltway goes right smack through the middle of it. The closely spaced interchanges encourage lots of local trips, and the poor 1950's design doesn't help either. Richmond's bypass is built to modern standards and the interchanges are pretty sparse along parts of it. Now if Richmond was growing at the same rate NOVA was, then developers would be eyeing all of those I-295 interchanges for their developments and traffic might get worse.

The reason Richmond's bypass was able to be successfully built is because there were forward thinking planners who snached up the land for the road while it was essentially farmland. Big farms = not many people = not much opposition. As soon as an area gets built up, forget it, everyone is up in arms when you propose something. DC still has a chance to get a my opinion the most likely corridor is the US 301 corridor from Carmel Church, VA to I-97 near Crofton...but the window of opportunity is fading fast as eastern Prince Georges County and Charles County transform from rural to suburban.

Posted by: Woodley Park | June 25, 2007 9:55 PM | Report abuse

"Washington has a bypass, too. It's called the Capitol Beltway."

You obviously do not know the difference between a circumferential highway and a regional bypass. Try looking at a map of any major UScity and comparing the two. Be certian to note the amount of developed areas as well as proxity to the core city. Don't bother looking at a map of DC. Try Richmond. note the difference between the Powhite/195/288 stretch and 295.

Any more questions?

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 10:08 PM | Report abuse

a little cleaned up for the typos:

"Washington has a bypass, too. It's called the Capitol Beltway."

You obviously do not know the difference between a circumferential highway and a regional bypass.

Try looking at a map of any major US city and comparing the two. Be sure to note the amount of developed areas along the routes as well as routes' proxity to the core city.

Don't bother looking at a map of DC. Try Richmond. Note the difference between the Powhite/195/288 stretch and 295.

Any more questions?

Posted by: CEEAF | June 25, 2007 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Now, now, let's be reasonable. The Beltway was once intended to be a bypass, and it was indeed originally called the "Circumferential Highway." Once upon a time, Burke Lake was out in the sticks and Centreville consisted of pretty much ONLY that old shopping center on the northwest corner of US-29 and VA-28. Dulles Airport was considered to be in the middle of nowhere (remember how people used to complain about it being a waste of money to build way out there?). As Woodley Park notes, however, the Beltway was given so many interchanges that development sprang up along, and outside, it, such that it became the key artery for going from place to place within the DC area, at least for people who don't know any other routes. Problem is that by the time that happened, the road opponents and BANANAs had organized to a degree where a further bypass was impossible. Look at how long it took to build the Fairfax County Parkway (indeed, it still isn't finished!!!!). That road was originally called the "Springfield Bypass" when it was first planned. It's no longer really a "bypass," is it?

Richmond has never been as big a city as DC. Also, I-295 is a MUCH newer road than the Beltway (the first stretch, from I-64 east of Richmond to I-95 north of the city, opened sometime around 1980; the Beltway opened in 1964 or so), so there's been a lot less time for development to follow. What I think is weird in Richmond is that the bulk of the development has always gone southwest from the city. Perhaps part of that has to do with the land to the east being lower-lying and generally swampier (which is why Richmond was originally built where it is).

Posted by: Rich | June 26, 2007 8:35 AM | Report abuse

The reason Richmond bypass was built is beuase NOVA paid for it. Plain and simple.
We get less 25cents back for every tax dollar we send to Richmond.

Stay Home Some of US need are SUVs. We cant afford two cars ro dont want two vehicles so we buy one so we can haul the dogs to herding trials, take the wifey antiquing or haul the kids to soccer camp.
Its a free country little boy and we can buy whatever car or vehicle we want.

I like hauling down I 66 in my H1 with Gale Banks twin turbos spewing out diesel particulants in big black clouds as I floor it and all 700hp+ comes to life. Nothing better than getting 8mpg on diesel and spewing boat loads of CO2 into the atmoshpere. What's wrong with global warming it means I can buy new beach proeprty cheap! And that's the girlfriend's vehicle. I have a 500hp+ 2003 Range Rover with a modified BMW V8 pumping out mass quantities of CO2 and get 9mpg.
Now you tree huggers needs to go back to studio condos with 300sq ft and complain to your Captain Al I invented the internet Gore. I have hay bales to sort and put out a lot CO2 with my tractors which dont have any pollution controls and then I fire up the Weber for lunch and put more CO2 in the air jsut for you.

Posted by: vaherder | June 26, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Ah, Dulles might have been a white elephant for a while, but thankfully planners had some foresight in two particular aspects:

1) There is plenty of room for both needed expansion and to keep a buffer between the airport and nearby residents. These two things complement each other nicely...the buffer keeps opposition to expansion to lower levels than it would otherwise be.

2) The Dulles Access Road...there will be sufficient roadway capacity for airport users for many, many years into the future. MWAA's hardline stance against allowing non-airport traffic onto its access road, along with somewhat aggressive enforcement against non-airport traffic looping through the airport has ensured that Dulles will remain accessible to the region's core. Dulles would still be a white elephant if people had to trek 3 hours from DC to get there during rush hour.

Of course some of their unique ideas didn't quite work so well...the congestion-free ride from DC is easily spoiled by being jammed into one of those "mobile lounges" on the way to the midfield concourses (which, for those not familiar, were not part of the original airport's design...the mobile lounges were supposed to be where you waited and they would take you straight to your plane....not at all conducive to a hub airport operation).

Posted by: Woodley Park | June 26, 2007 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Oops, hit send too soon.

Closing argument: if a planner has some foresight and tries to build a transportation facility with extra capacity, or build a facility that is not needed now but will be in the future...the public is all up in arms because someone built "an expensive highway to nowhere". Its a shame that doing something like this is viewed negatively when in reality it is probably much easier to get something like Dulles built before the surrounding area was built up.

Posted by: Woodley Park | June 26, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

It's funny how Dr. Gridlock asked about the best routes and all we got were arguments about CO2, SUVs and inefficiencies in roadway planning.
Can we go just one day, or one hour without hearing about global warming? It's pointless to argue about it now, because all the damage has been done, and even if we all lived in the woods and only ate grass that was pissed on by buffalo, the earth would still die and we would all die, because everything that has a beginning also has an end.
Now, will someone who has some damn sense please talk about the best routes to get in and out of town.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | June 26, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

At least BIKE_OR_DIE hasn't put in an appearance. (CEEAF, at least, will know who I mean.)

Perhaps part of the lack of shortcut information is that the discussion of shortcuts has focused on avoiding that stupid tollbooth in Delaware, and there are only a limited number of viable alternate routes. I mean, you can go over the Bay Bridge, which is fine most of the year but a bad idea on summer weekends. You can take US-40, but there are a ton of red lights. Same for US-1. You can go the Pennsylvania Turnpike like I said, but that's a lot further north and might not help depending on your destination.

Going south from Washington, there are really only three roads available to get you south of Fredericksburg unless you go well to the west: I-95, US-1, and US-301. The Marine Corps base in Quantico and Prince William Forest Park block the path any other roads would take.

Going west, it's so dependent on where you're going that it's hard to offer good shortcuts. Oftentimes it seems like it doesn't matter what road you take--if you want to get to I-81 via the Toll Road and VA-7 so as to avoid I-66, you'll still hit a traffic jam just east of Winchester.

Posted by: Rich | June 26, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to be headed to Marydel, DE sometime next week to pick up a horse (e.g., I'll be driving a truck and two-horse trailer). How bad would one expect Rte 50/Bay Bridge to be right after July 4th? I have a feeling the next weekend is going to be even worse, so I'm hoping to get drive over during a weekday.

Posted by: Kendall | June 26, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

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