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Getaway routes: avoiding Delaware's toll

[Join me for our weekly discussion of traffic and transit at noon. We can talk about the Thanksgiving getaway or any other transportation topic that's on your mind. Use this link if you'd like to submit a question or comment in advance.]

Travelers have sent in some additional suggestions on how to avoid various problems typically encountered in the holiday getaway traffic. On the Commuter page in the Sunday Post, I offered my some alternative routes you could try this week. but here are a couple more.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I enjoyed your holiday travel column, but I think that there's a better alternative than the 2nd choice you offer for avoiding the Delaware toll. Most of my extended family lives in lower Bucks County, Pa., which is just north of the city of Philadelphia on I-95. Here's how I get there from the Washington area. I live in Arlington.

1) We take 395 into the District until its terminus at Pennsylvania Avenue, then cross the Anacostia to go north on 295. At the intersection with Route 50, we take Route 50 east.
1a) You can also take the Beltway to Route 50 east towards Annapolis.
2) Stay on 50 across the Bay Bridge (pay a one-way $2.50 toll.) Route 50 will split with Route 301 in Queenstown, where you will take 301 north.
3) Stay on Route 301 for the next 60 miles or so. You will roll through the beautiful Eastern Shore countryside at slightly-less than Interstate speeds all the way to the Delaware state line. There's only one rest stop in Maryland, but plenty of restaurants and gas stations in Middletown soon after crossing into Delaware. In Delaware, the highway narrows to two lanes (and is under construction, but with no delays), but you can take it all the way to I-95 immediately past the toll booth. I believe the highway number changes to State Highway 896 at some point, but just stay on the road to 95.

4) I actually prefer to avoid 95 altogether in Delaware for the frequent bad traffic regardless of the toll. While still on 301/896, I turn right onto Route 40 North (just past the Chesapeake-Delaware Bay Canal.). Route 40 merges with Route 13 south of Wilmington near the New Castle County Airport. You can also take 896 east from where it joins 301 to Route 13/Delaware Highway 1, but that's more complicated.

The benefits of this route are that it's much less taxing on the mind, and avoids nearly all of the tolls. If you're continuing to New York/New Jersey, you can turn from 40/13 onto the Delaware Memorial Bridge. If you're continuing to Philadelphia, you can turn from 13 onto 495 two miles after that. Total added time per trip is approximately 30 minutes -- easily beaten if traffic on 95 is at a standstill at any point.
Chris Scott

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Since our daughter went to the University of Delaware in Newark, we have always avoided the toll plaza by getting off I-95 at exit 109 in Maryland toward Newark.

You suggest taking the first right onto Iron Hill Road. The problem we found when we tried that (you have suggested this before so we thought we would try it) is that Iron Hill Road is not the first right. When we did find it, we found it to be much slower than our way (we timed it and then went our usual way on our return trip). The road was a local country road and twisty.

What we suggest is just going a little further up Route 2 and turn right onto East Chestnut Hill Road. On the left is a big shopping center with Home Depot and Acme supermarket. East Chestnut Hill Roa is a large two-lane road. It takes you directly to South College Avenue (directly across from the University of Delaware stadium) where you turn right and then get back onto I-95.

When heading south, you turn left onto East Chestnut Hill Road. You know you are there when you see the stadium and then you turn left onto Route 2 when you the street ends and you see the shopping center in front of you.
Richard and Meryl Bresnick

By Robert Thomson  |  November 23, 2009; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, I-95, avoiding Delaware  
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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. The Bay Bridge route is probably the best way to avoid the Delaware toll during high-traffic periods. I recall the commenter now known as "thetan" posted a route (when he was called "Woodley Park") that avoided the other toll in Delaware that you encounter when you go over the Bay Bridge. If I can find what I said, I'll re-post it in a followup comment.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 23, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Shhhhhh! Us long-time shunpikers don't need you publicizing this option.

Posted by: doubleuefwhy | November 23, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

FYI, that's not Chestnut Hill Rd. That's the Christiana Parkway.

Also, you can take the Rt 40 bridge over the Susquehana and pay a one time 10 dolalr toll and get the rest of the year free. Just ask for a sticker.

Posted by: EricS2 | November 23, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Shhhhhh! Us long-time shunpikers don't need you publicizing this option.


Actualy, I much perfer it be publcized. The $4 toll each way is redicilous. The more people that know they can avoid it -- the better. Delaware used to toll the exit lanes as well but removed them to appease locals.

I would gladly pay the toll if it was used solely for i-95 in delaware. but its not. its used for roads all over the state and i'm not paying 8$ round trip for that!

Posted by: pooooop423 | November 23, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't find the post from "thetan," but I looked at a map and found the Eastern Shore route I wanted:

(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 onramp, for reasons I will explain momentarily.

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

(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. If you enter the highway from Route 896, you have to pay the toll. If you instead use the US-13 route described here, you bypass the toll plaza. I'm not normally one to worry a great deal about bypassing tolls, but when it's this easy to do without going out of your way, I think you'd have to be crazy not to do it.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 23, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

For avoiding the Delaware Turnpike toll when headed south, if the backup starts before the exit for 896, you can also take the previous exit, for 273. Turn right and then exit onto Del. 4, and take that past the University of Delaware (it becomes Del. 2-4 at some point and then joins 896). When you reach the shopping center with the Acme and Home Depot, turn left and that will become Md. 279 when it crosses the state line. Yeah, it may seem like it takes longer with the lights and all, but maybe not depending on traffic, plus you save the $4 toll and the gas is cheaper in this stretch of Del. 4, plus there are additional restaurant options. Also remember, the Delaware service plaza is closed right now as they rebuild it.

Posted by: ValleyCaps | November 23, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

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