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Talking Thanksgiving travel, 2009 edition

Each November, I pull together the most recent information from highway departments and from travelers into blog and newspaper advice for the holiday getaway. One of the questions that came in during our Monday online chat got me started on this year's edition.

Silver Spring, Md.: "Too soon to ask about Thanksgiving?
I'm headed, as always, for the Penn. Turnpike. Top of the Beltway to 270 to 70 to Breezewood. But here's the thing: 70 is a bear all the way to Hagerstown on getaway days. Don't know what the big deal is about Hagerstown (I used to think it was the Premium Outlets, but the traffic issue persists even when they must be closed), but there it is. So when, do you think, is the best time to split? It's a question of +/- going to work on Wednesday; if I do, I'll be set free a little early, in the 3 p.m. sort of area ... which will get me hung up in the worst traffic and my six-hour drive will take nine hours. If I don't go to work on Wednesday, I could leave Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning; which is better?

"Or, if you and the gang know a better (faster, and still safe in the winter) way to get to Cleveland, I'm all ears."

It's definitely not too soon to get talking. Travelers, please send me your thoughts and tell me about your experiences on this basic getaway issue. Post your comments here on the blog, or send them to me at And that's whether you know, or need to know about traveling north, south, east, west from the Washington area.

My thoughts on Silver Spring's question: I'd take Wednesday off and leave Tuesday evening, if the weather is good. Even if you leave early on Wednesday, you're still going to run into somebody's rush hour on a long distance trip, plus you'll pick up some holiday traffic.

Still, I wouldn't expect to breeze through on Tuesday night. Those of us who cover transportation for The Post have noticed that traffic on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving has been getting heavier

Silver Spring wasn't asking about this, but is anyone into Breezewood avoidance? Any suggestions on that?

By Robert Thomson  |  November 3, 2009; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock  
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Avoiding Breezewood:

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).

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 3, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

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. Continue on I-70 west to Indy, then north on I-65 to get to Chicago toll-free (though the western part of the Indiana Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway are often much faster, despite the tolls).

Posted by: thetan | November 3, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

I thought of I-68, but as Doc said avoiding Breezewood really isn't my main goal; it doesn't usually add a ton of time to the trip. If I could get out of metro DC without losing two or three hours to Hagerstown, then I'd be in business.

(Plus 68 and 79 in WVa can get kind of bendy and slick, and one thing about the Pike is that it's sure to be well-traveled and not icy.)

-- Silver Spring :-)

Posted by: walkleftstandright | November 3, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

We go to Pittsburgh every year. Don't bother heading that direction any time Tuesday or Wed between 5:30 am and 9pm. For the smoothest trip, leave very early Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning and you will have smooth sailing the whole way!

Posted by: momof3g | November 3, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Okay, here's a tip....

Heading out of DC area to the west (NW to PA or SW towards the I-81 corridor), there is one roadway that leads west from the DC area that is often not jammed up with a lot of long distance traffic: The Dulles Toll Road. If you can get to the Dulles Toll Road, you can take advantage of this nifty little shortcut.

Head west out of the DC area on the Dulles Toll Road (or Dulles Access Road if you don't want to pay the're going on a long distance trip and probably need gas at the Dulles Airport Exxon station, right?). Continue west from Dulles on the Greenway (or if you really don't want to pay the toll, 28 north to Route 7 west) to Leesburg. Outside of normal commuter rush hours, you shouldn't hit much traffic here.

To get to Frederick, follow US 15 north from Leesburg, over the Point of Rocks Bridge into Frederick. Follow the signs for I-70 west or US 15 north, depending on if you want to head to Hagerstown or towards Gettysburg. If you are heading towards Gettysburg, you will be past the major traffic. If you are heading to Hagerstown, you'll avoid delays on I-270 and the ramp to I-70 and the merge down to 2 lanes on I-70. You'll be stuck with delays to Hagerstown, but you'll be past the worst parts.

To head south on I-81 towards Harrisonburg and Roanoke: don't go to Leesburg. Take 28 north at Dulles Airport. Go 1 exit to Route 606 west. You'll go around the back of the airport. When you get to Route 50, turn right. Take that to Gilberts Corner. At the first roundabout, go 3/4 of the way around to the new connector road, then at the next roundabout go 3/4 of the way around onto US 15 south. When you get to I-66 in Haymarket, go west. You'll be beyond the 4 into 2 merge at Manassas and the Gainesville mess.

Alternative route to head south on I-81: get to Leesburg, and stay on Route 7 west. Follow Route 7 to Winchester. Get onto I-81 south.

Alternate route to Pittsburgh and Ohio: At Leesburg, go west on Route 7. Take that to I-81 north. Go 1 exit to ROute 37, and turn left. Get off at Route 522, and turn right to go north. Take that for 30+ miles to Berkeley Springs WV (speed trap, beware), and eventually into Hancock MD. Your choice, I-70 west to Breezewood or I-68 west towards Cumberland...Route 522 joins I-70 right were I-70 and I-68 split.

I think my routes will get you around most of the traffic and be time-competative with sticking to the main routes. My "alternate" routes bypass more traffic, but are not likely to be faster. But they might be more relaxing.

Posted by: thetan | November 4, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

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