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Getting to BWI, Stick to the Interstates

That advice comes from Dave Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, which has offices quite close to Baltimore Washington Marshall Airport. He noticed the discussion we had during today's online chat about traveling from the Washington area to BWI at rush hour.

I said that my airport van driver had noted that his company recommends the drivers go north on I-95, then cut east on Route 100, then go up the BW Parkway to connect with I-195 into the airport.

Don't do that, says Buck. Route 100 is far more congested and that section of I-95 between 100 and I-195, he says. So don't get fancy: The straight shot, I-95 north to I-195 east, is the fastest.

The original question had to do with how much time to leave when driving from Takoma Park to meet an incoming flight at 6 p.m. I said I'd leave home at 4:40 p.m. Here's a comment from one reader that I didn't have time to publish during the discussion.

BWI at rush hour: I give myself 90 minutes from Chevy Chase, so leaving at 4:40 from Takoma Park should be fine. But it will not be a pleasant trip! The inner loop is usually backed up pretty badly. I-95 can be better, but not always.

People often ask me how long it will take them to get from point A to point B, and I'm glad to take a shot at that, but it's those airport arrival questions that give me pause. I picture someone asking me what time to leave for Dulles, then writing back later to tell me that they missed their 50th wedding anniversary cruise to Tahiti because they took my advice.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 15, 2009; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Driving  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Getting to BWI Airport  
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"So don't get fancy: The straight shot, I-95 north to I-695 east, is the fastest."

I believe the I-695 reference quoted above is a typo that should read I-195.

At least the person in today's chat was simply picking someone up (meaning being late wouldn't be catastrophic). I flew out of BWI on a Friday evening in March and it took a good two hours to get up there from the Van Dorn Street exit on the Beltway (thankfully, I had expected such and allowed ample time). If it hadn't been something like $300 cheaper to fly out of there I never would have done it.....

Posted by: 1995hoo | June 15, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

I've been commuting for 10 years around the beltway now. And I can say that sticking to the interstates is the best bet 99% of the time. As long as the road is open, don't try to find a secret way to get where you're going. It won't work because plenty of others also know about it and are also on that route. So just stick to the interstates and you'll be fine.

Posted by: gilmoredaniel | June 15, 2009 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree about sticking to the Interstates to BWI during rush hour. On a typical afternoon during rush hour, I-95 North heading towards Baltimore will generally slow down at the ICC construction site and between MD 175 and MD 100 in Howard County. On the other hand, the Baltimore Washington Parkway will slow down from the Beltway, through Greenbelt and NASA Goddard to the Powder Mill Road exit, then again in Laurel to MD 32 and then from NSA to MD 175 and sometimes slows again from MD 100 to pass the exit for BWI Airport. I-95 offers more lane choices, 4 as compared to 2 on the BW Parkway.

On a Friday afternoon during rush hour, both roadways are typically slow the entire length between I-495 and I-695.

Posted by: eyendis | June 16, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Don't get fancy, stay home and have your guest take MARC to Union Station and Metro to somewhere closer to you. Then you aren't contributing to traffic unnecessarily and inconveniencing the rest of us not going to BWI.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | June 16, 2009 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Since I only have to get to BWI about twice a year, and am coming from the west, I do use U.S. 29 to Md. 100 to avoid I-695...

Posted by: ValleyCaps | June 16, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Thanks for all of your comments. I would like to spotlight a general principle from gilmoredaniel, who said that sticking to the interstates is the best bet 99 percent of the time. This comes up quite often in my conversations with veteran travelers. In a discussion about when to bail out from a highway traffic jam, they will caution against leaving the highway to strike out along some uncharted path of secondary roads. And during discussions of best getaway routes for the holidays, they'll note some options besides the main highways, but they'll point out that there are no undiscovered shortcuts, and it's often best to stick with the road with the most lanes.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | June 16, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

I will take it one slight step further and say that it is sometimes better to bail off a highway if you are circumnavigating a particular bottleneck and you know the route in question well enough to know that it is better than the highway. This definitely holds true for construction zones as well.

I have a saying that I made up personally...."be the cause, not the effect" (of a traffic jam). Rarely are all approaches to a bottleneck treated equally. Many times traffic will back up at a particular on-ramp. The on-ramp itself isn't congested, but the merging process causes a big backup onto the mainline. If possible, individual drivers will want to plot their route to utilize that on-ramp. Get on further upstream, and you sit in the delay. Get on further downstream, and you miss out on some open road, because the road presumably clears just beyond that merge.

I say individual drivers, because each time a driver does this, he/she makes the merge ever so slightly worse for those stuck on the mainline. But the roads are still "every man for himself" in a way, and the ones who get home fastest are often the ones who can outsmart everyone else. There are a few places in DC area where it is actually faster to exit the highway, make a turn or two, and then re-enter the highway.

Another trick is the "michigan left"...make a turn going the opposite way from where you really want to go, and then make a U-turn.

I'll give an example. The old Springfield interchange. It used to back up most onto the Beltway, and relatively little onto I-395...especially on holiday weekends when there is little commute traffic on I-395 but a lot of thru traffic exiting to 95 south from the Beltway. So from the Outer loop, you could take the left exit onto I-395 north (95 south would be backing up the right lanes), and "ride the ramps" at Edsall Road and approach 95 south from 395. If the HOV lanes were running south, do the same thing, except turn around at Duke Street, cut over to the left, and enter the HOV lanes.

Of course I picked an obsolete example, because I wouldn't want to give any tricks away, but if you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going, sometimes the alternates are faster than the highway. But for an occasional trip to BWI, this is not likely to be the case.

Posted by: thetan | June 16, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

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