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Getaway: crossing Delaware for Thanksgiving

Even if you saw the Commuter page on getaway routes and Monday's online discussion about Thanksgiving travel, I've got some more advice from travelers about getting through Delaware, the bane of so many Northeast trips.

The letter below arrived in response to my toll avoidance route, which goes like this: From I-95 north, take Route 279 toward Newark, Del. Take Iron Hill Road on the right. Turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Then turn right onto Route 896 (South College Avenue). I-95 will be a quarter-mile down the road.

Dear. Dr. Gridlock:
I worked in Washington for 20 years and can sympathize with the frustration posed by the Delaware Toll Plaza. I live just a few miles from this expensive impediment to travel and I'd like to offer some local advice.

Iron Hill Road straddles the Delaware/Maryland border and receives very little maintenance attention from either one. It is a rutted, pot-holed country lane. Better to continue a half mile or so north on Elkton Road (Route 279) just across the state line and take the next right onto Otts Chapel Road, a four-lane artery from which you can then turn left onto Chestnut Hill Road. You'll find the distance just about the same, but the road conditions much better.
Kennard Wiggins
Elkton, MD

Problem: still on I-95
In a blog comment 1995hoo made this good point: "The problem I've found with the 'avoid the Delaware toll' routes that use I-95 is that when the traffic is heavy, you get stuck anyway because the backup extends well past the interchanges on either side of the toll plaza."

That's a key thing to remember when traveling I-95 through Delaware during a peak travel period like this. There will be backups in both directions approaching the tolls, and there could be times when the northbound backup extends for many miles into Maryland and when the southbound backup extends across all of Delaware. When I'm driving north on 95, I'd rather pick a weird time, pay the toll and get through Delaware as efficiently as possible.

But 1995hoo came back with an alternative route that uses the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for an end run. It goes like this:

(1) Go over the Bay Bridge and take US 301 north into Delaware.

(2) Stay on US 301 to the turn for DE 896. Do not use the earlier turn at DE 299 through Middletown; stay on US-301 until you hit DE 896.

(3) Turn right onto DE 896 and follow it to US 13. Turn left onto northbound US 13. Note that while DE 1 is directly ahead of you, you do not want to use that on ramp, for reasons I will explain momentarily.

(4) Follow US-13 north for 2.6 miles. Then you'll see an on ramp for DE-1 on your left. Turn left and take that on ramp.

(5) Follow DE 1 north towards I-95; if you're heading for the Delaware Memorial Bridge or towards Philadelphia, I recommend you take US 13 where that splits off of DE 1. US 13 takes you up past New Castle Airport and meets I-295 just west of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Going this way avoids congestion on I-95 and avoids the Christiana Mall (itself a major source of traffic).

If the traffic is already getting heavy, an additional shortcut after step 5: Once US 13 splits from DE 1, turn right at the first crossroads onto Hamburg Road. Then turn left at the T-intersection onto DE 9. It will take you through New Castle (note that at one point you have to make a right, then an immediate left, to stay on DE 9) and it will bring you out at I-295 just west of the Delaware Memorial Bridge at the last interchange in Delaware. DE 9 is not as wide as US 13, but it also gets less traffic because a lot of people don't know about it.

The reason for using the US 13 step described in steps 3 and 4 is that there is a toll plaza on DE 1 just north of the entry from DE 896.

Notes for off-peak travelers
The westbound span of the Bay Bridge will be closed for re-decking from 8 p.m. Tuesday (tonight) to 5 a.m. Wednesday. You'll find two-way traffic will operate on the eastbound span, so use extra caution.

I don't normally mention the advisories I get about the Hatum Bridge on US 40 in northern Maryland, but if you're a fan of alternative routes and off-peak times this might be relevant to your return from Thanksgiving travels: Westbound bridge traffic may be detoured from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night from Monday, Nov. 30 through Thursday, Dec. 3 and again from Monday, Dec. 7, through Thursday, Dec. 10. Eastbound traffic will not be affected.

The detour: Westbound traffic on US 40 will be diverted to northbound MD 222, to southbound I-95 (where there is no toll), to eastbound MD 155, and back to westbound US 40.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 24, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Thanksgiving, travel tips  
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Next: Holiday schedule affects MTA commuter buses


Don't do the Iron Hill Rd or Otis Chapel Rd. Christiana Parkway is much faster, and you don't get lost.

Take 279 north till you cross into Deleware, then right onto Christiana. It's the first really big set of traffic light, across the street from a Home Depot. There's a bunch of signs that point out "SEPTA" "AMTRAK" and "I-95". Turn right again at the next right turn, 896, and right back to I-95.

If I-95 traffic is really bad before the Memorial Bridge you can even continue on Christiana Parkway all the way to Rt. 7. It's not fast due to a lot of lights, but it can be better than an standtill I-95.

Posted by: EricS2 | November 24, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Why not report on the fact that Delaware uses toll revenue for state-wide transportation project?

The 4 a way toll is outrageous considering how little distance is traveled and the fact that this road was built decades ago. Revenue bonds have long been paid off.

Posted by: movingalongplz | November 24, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I am convinced that the never-ending construction in Delaware is just that: never-ending. It never seems to fix anything but is merely a front used by the state to convince people the toll money is being used for improvements.
I would like to see them use the money to expand the Memorial Bridge all the way to the MD border!

Posted by: reisele | November 24, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge alternate ($2.50 toll one way rather than the $5 at the Susquehanna to boot) looks pretty good, except between May and September, I would guess. EricS2 mentions staying on Christina Parkway (Del. 4) north as well to get around more I-95 traffic. On another thread, I mentioned that as a southbound alternate if the traffic backs up too much at the toll plaza. A couple of times, I have even taken the U.S. 1 bridge over the Conowingo Dam and then the limited access stretch into the western Philly burbs, but that is pretty slow in spots. Still, gets you away from I-95...

Posted by: ValleyCaps | November 24, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Funny, I end up on the stretch on Rt 1 in SE PA when I visit a friend up there. Weird road. Just deadends into traffic lights. Not recomended as a work around unless 95 is closed.

Does it really matter where the toll money goes? Just dodge it and it doesn't matter anyway. Christiana works just as well going southbound to. Perfect reverse.

Posted by: EricS2 | November 24, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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