Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Share Stories  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |  Get Gridlock:    Twitter |    Facebook  |     RSS   |  phone Alerts

Getaway: traveling west of Washington

There was a holiday direction I didn't account for in my Commuter page feature on getaway routes: What if you're heading west through Maryland and Pennsylvania?

The issue came up Monday during my weekly online discussion.

Washington, D.C.: Over Thanksgiving and again at Christmas, we will be traveling from Richmond, Va. to Breezewood, Penn. (at least this is where we get on the Pa Turnpike ) ... what is our best route? I-95 south of the Beltway always seems to be a parking lot.

My first thought was that a driver from Richmond might get onto Route 17 at Fredericksburg and then do one of a couple of things: Take 17 to I-66 to I-81 to I-70 to Breezewood and the Pennsylvania Pike junction, or take 17 to Route 15 to I-70 to Breezewood (and avoid I-81).

But then another traveler asked another version of the western trip question.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Driving to Buffalo, N.Y. Usually take 270, 70 to Breezewood and then 70/76 (Penna Turnpike). 270 and 70 are usually crowded and slow. Any way of bypassing them and getting straight on to Penna Turnpike?

Breezewood is a notorious collection of gas stations and fast food restaurants that exists because there is no interchange at the junction of I-70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76).

I asked travelers how they get around that bottleneck and noted that I already had a couple of good comments from here on the blog:

"You could take I-68 west from Hancock and then use either US-220 north (meets the Turnpike at Bedford, one exit west of Breezewood) or US-219 north (takes you to Somerset via a somewhat longer drive than the US-220 route). Or you could stay on I-68 to where it ends at I-79 in West Virginia, then go north on I-79. That's a considerably longer drive distance-wise, though (but it may have less traffic and it's toll-free)." That was from 1995hoo.

"I've done I-68 from Hancock to Morgantown, I-79 to Washington PA, and then I-70 west to Columbus on several occasions. Its longer, but not that much longer, and certainly a more pleasant drive than the Turnpike." That was from thetan.

These related comment came in during the chat, but I didn't have a chance to publish it till now.

Fairfax, Va.: Re avoiding Breezewood. You can go north on 270 to US 15, and get the PA Tpike at Camp Hill. Not sure how many mies that adds, but Route 15 (through Emmittsville, Gettysburg, etc.) is usually pretty laid back. 270 is the kicker on this route!

Washington, D.C.: re the questioner trying to get to Buffalo:
Having driven from DC to Buffalo not a few times, my suggestion would be to go I-270 to US-15 at Frederick and stick on it all the way through Pennsylvania, and turns into NY-15/I-86 around Corning. Then at the I-86/I-390 split, go on 390 to the Thruway. 15 is mostly divided highway and should be a fast drive.

Driving to Buffalo: The easiest way to Buffalo--been making the trip frequently for more than 25 years--is to take I-99 through Altoona & then swing NW through Philipsburg, Ridgeway, Bradford, & on north. Some truck traffic weekdays but generally not bad.

[We'll deal with more getaway issues later today and on Wednesday.]

By Robert Thomson  |  November 24, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Thanksgiving, travel tips  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The holiday getaway spreads out
Next: Getaway: reaching the winter beach


I would agree with the US-15 route to Buffalo. I've used it when driving back from trips to Ontario and it worked well. The downside of the I-99 route is that you either have to go through Breezewood (ugh) or you have to take I-68 to near Cumberland and then go north on US-220, which becomes I-99. While it's not a bad drive, you're going a long way to the west before you turn back northeast, as compared to going north the whole time on US-15. (Plus the I-99 numbering is an abomination that makes a mockery of the Interstate system numbering plan, but I recognize the average driver would not boycott the road over that!)

The comment Dr. G pasted contains a typo in that you take I-390 to the Thruway, not to a "turnpike." Minor issue, but it's always best to be extra-precise when giving directions on a route that will be new for the driver.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 24, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: 1995hoo, thanks for pointing out the Turnpike/Thruway thing. I went back into the posting above and fixed that typo.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | November 24, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I should have mentioned that I didn't mean to imply that it was your typo. I suspect the person who submitted the comment to the online chat worded it that way, as we all know that people come up with all sorts of odd ways to refer to various roads!

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 24, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

I-99 to (eventually) U.S. 219 is route I have been using from Winchester to Buffalo for a few years, and I'm not so sure it swings you too far to the west (I-76 ot I-79 to I-90, which AAA likes, yeah, THAT is crazy). But it's true that you have to do through Breezewood, and that is a mess around holidays. And the last time I took it, Saturday of Columbus Day weekend, I had major delays in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., and Ellicottsville, N.Y., thanks to festivals. But for a run of the mill run, this isn't the worst route. It will take as long as 76 to 79 to 90 (unless you want to go 80 mph the whole way) but save about 60 miles.

Posted by: ValleyCaps | November 24, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I did the I-90 to I-79 to PA Turnpike route coming back from Toronto one August at AAA's suggestion (this was long before Google Maps or Mapquest or in-dash sat-navs and the like) and it was a relatively easy drive, given that a lot of it was late at night, but it was indeed way out of the way. The next time I was in that area I used the US-15 route and it was much better; I believe the road has recently been improved north of Williamsport, too.

I think AAA's route planners automatically assume that you should stay on the Interstate whenever possible, whereas I have no problem with using whatever road strikes my fancy (including two-lane roads), and at peak travel times I tend to opt for the non-Interstates when reasonable under the assumption that many people don't know any route other than the Interstates.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 24, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Yes, U.S. 15 is much improved over the years as it is being prepared to carry the extension of I-99 from Williamsport to Corning. The only issue I have with that route to Buffalo is from where I am, I have to head northeast on I-81 to get to U.S. 15, but out of greater D.C., it is a fine route. Weird thing about Pennsy (other than beer distributors) is that there are few north-south roads thanks to the mountains. They tend to run northeast and southwest...

Posted by: ValleyCaps | November 24, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

".... [O]ther than beer distributors ...."

You mean like stopping into a pub to get "a six-pack to go" in certain parts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 24, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company