Alternative Holiday Routes
As the holidays approach, will the weakening economy circumvent lower gas prices and keep people from making long-distance road trips? Don't count on it. The Travel Industry Association says Americans think differently about holiday travel and will endure costs in time and money for the sake of joining friends and family. Although seasoned travelers say no undiscovered shortcuts around traffic backups exist, Dr. Gridlock and his helpers have a couple of options that might be worth trying.
- Congestion Inevitable: The I-95 Corridor Coalition notes that this main north-south highway is 1,917 miles long, from Florida to Maine, with about 1,040 of those miles crossign through urbanized areas. Anyone who takes a long drive during the daytime will probably encounter someplace's rush hour. Many drivers say that traveling at off hours saves more time than any route variation.
- Delaware: This small state is usually the biggest of congestion problems for East Coast travelers, partly because I-95 also serves as the Main Street of New Castle County.
- E-ZPass: Watch the signs as you approach the tollbooths. Different toll authorities put their E-ZPass lanes in different positions, but when in doubt look for them at the left side of the toll plaza. The New Jersey Turnpike eased congestion considerably by installing overhead readers in the travel lanes at the toll plaza east of the Delaware Memorial Bridge that allow drivers to maintain highway speeds.
- The Return: On the Sundays after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day, there will be a tremendous traffic jam on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike near Exit 8, where the car and truck lanes converge. The Delaware Memorial Bridge toll plaza will also be backed up, and the traffic at the Delaware Turnpike plaza will be just ghastly.
- Background: We would be crazy to suggest this route in the summer because of beach traffic, but it's not a bad option for holiday travel. The time is competitive with I-95 on a normal day and especially so whent eh interstate is backed up. The off-interstate ride is also much prettier, particularly on Route 301, and a lot less stressful.
- Watch For: Slow-moving vehicles -- maybe even a tractor or two -- on two-lane Route 896.
- Detour: Instead of heading north, go east on Route 50 over the Bay Bridge to Route 301 to Route 896 to Route 1. There are tolls on the Bay Bridge and on Route 1, but they're a lot less than the tolls on I-95.
- Background: Backups at the Delaware toll plaza are virtually inevitable, and this is a pretty quick way to scoot around them. It also saves a few bucks.
- Watch For: Local speed limits. Slow down from highway speeds on thsoe secondary roads. You'll still be plenty of miles ahead of your fellow travelers.
- Detour: From I-95 north, take Route 279 toward Newark, Del. Take the first right onto Iron Hill Road. At the end, turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Stay on that for a bit, then turn right onto Route 896 (South College Avenue) and I-95 will be about a quarter-mile down the road.
- Volume: These routes are heavily traveled by commuters and long-distance drivers. Getaway traffic can be a nightmare, and the return is no better.
- Roadway: Near Gainesville, westbound I-66 narrows to two lanes in each direction, and the jams can stretch for miles.
- 511: Virginia's 511 travel information service can be useful for navigating the holiday traffic scene. By calling 511 in Virginia or visiting 511virginia.org, people can get directions and information about traffic incidents, bridges and tunnels and road construction. The service can be customized for mobile devices and computers.
- Background: Picking up I-81 at this point avoids the worst pockets of congestion farther north and avoids a lot of the truck traffic that makes the interstate so frightening. Routes 29 and 460 are good four-lane highways, and they roll through some pretty country south of Warrenton.
- Watch For: Traffic in towns along the way. The biggest is Charlottesville, which is congested during peak travel times.
- Detour: Take Route 29 south from Gainesville, through Culpeper, Charlottesville and on to Lynchburg, where you can take Route 460 west to join I-81 at Roanoke.
- Background: It's possible -- likely, even -- that I-95 will be no better than I-66. Check the roads first, and if it does look better, this is a good option that takes you through some of the prettiest parts of Virginia, particularly on Route 231.
- Watch For: Traffic on Route 3. That's a main road for the Fredericksburg area, and there's a shopping mall near where it hits I-95.
- Detour: Take I-95 south to Route 3 west in Fredericksburg. Take a left onto Route 20 toward Orange. In Orange, turn left onto Route 15 to Gordonsville. At the traffic circle in Gordonsville, go 180 degrees to Route 231. Turn right at the end of the road, and that will take you right to I-64. Hop on it going west, and you will hit I-81.
November 17, 2008; 11:23 AM ET
Categories: Congestion , holiday travel
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