Readers pave way around road tolls

November 19, 2007|By MICHAEL DRESSER

My readers have done it. They've uncovered my ignorance of traffic patterns around York, Pa. They've proposed credible alternatives to my proposed routes for avoiding the dreaded Interstate 95 corridor during peak holiday travel to the Northeast. And they've suggested what might be a better way to avoid the Delaware Toll Stickup.

But mostly, readers have been receptive to the concept of Delaware Avoidance. Lots of people, it seems, are fed up with the extortionate tolls and onerous backups along I-95, where highway authorities appear to delight in making motorists pay for the privilege of remaining parked in traffic.

And when the various toll roads, bridges and tunnels along I-95 start adding up to $20 and more for a clogged-up, drawn-out miserable trip to New York or New England, people become very receptive to the idea of a (virtually) toll-free Northeast Passage. If they can save money and avoid congestion, most folks will gladly drive more miles.

But those who know Pennsylvania's York reported that I gave some bad advice last week when I advised a left turn off Route 462 to connect with U.S. 30. Several readers wrote in with the same refinement of my route to northern New Jersey. Bob Reiter of Seven Valleys, Pa., was one of them.

"When you take the Market street exit, you just go straight and turn right on (U.S.) 30 (2nd light)," he wrote. From there, 30 is a straight shot to U.S. 222 at Lancaster.

"It's nice through Reading now with 222 finished all the way through. Made that part of the trip many times," he wrote.

But Thomas Davies of Towson tried the suggested route and grew frustrated with the pace of travel between Reading and Allentown, where the road narrows in places to two lanes (sometimes with a third, center turn lane). He said he tried staying on I-83 to Harrisburg and picking up Interstate 81 north to Interstate 78 - a route I rejected based on Mapquest time estimates showing the route through Reading faster by about 10 minutes.

"This was a little longer but entirely bypassed U.S. 222, which we have found very congested each of the three or four times we tried it. With a stop for lunch in Allentown, we don't know if we saved any time or not, but it certainly was a lot less frustrating than following horse-drawn carriages for about 30 miles in Pennsylvania Dutch country," Davies wrote.

My experience with U.S. 222 was more satisfactory last year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. No Amish carriages. And travel was brisk up until Pennsylvania Route 100, where a northward bypass to I-78 is necessary to avoid local Allentown traffic.

(It helps to have a Rand-McNally Road Atlas to follow this. Nobody should attempt interstate travel without one.)

My guess is that Davies' route would be faster at some times, slower at others. Lead-footed motorists probably would gain time on the all-interstate route; more sedate drivers likely would prefer my U.S. 30-U.S. 222 route. If the time is roughly equal, I like a break from interstates.

Peter Samuel, editor-publisher of Tollroads News, who kindly took notice of my column, reports that I-81 northeast of Harrisburg has its own congestion problems, particularly southbound. Inquisitive travelers might want to try both routes. If you do, please write. (Samuel, a self-described toll-road enthusiast, also wrote that the Delaware Turnpike "stinks.")

Larry Markle of Bel Air suggests what he calls an even better alternative than my route via York and Lancaster. You take U.S. 1 from Bel Air to Pennsylvania Route 10 near Oxford, then head north through Pennsylvania Dutch country, to Interstate 176, which links up with U.S. 222 at Reading.

"We have relatives living in the Allentown area and we have made this trip for about 30 years. We have tried all the other options and this is the best. There is no traffic all the way and you can stop at great places for lunch or just a break," Markle wrote.

This strikes me as an excellent alternative for people who are starting out in Harford County, eastern Baltimore County and Anne Arundel. For central Baltimore, north and western Baltimore County and Howard County, I'd pick the I-83 alternative.

For those who do choose the I-95 corridor, several readers offered other routes than mine for avoiding the Delaware toll plaza.

T.J. Casser of Baltimore suggests that northbound drivers get off I-95 at Exit 109B (Route 279 north) and cross the state line, where 279 becomes Delaware Route 2, turn right onto Delaware Route 2, right onto Delaware Route 896, and then rejoin I-95 North.

Southbound, he reverses the route in light traffic. But southbound toll backups can extend past the 896 exit during heavy travel, so for this weekend he suggests taking Exit 3 (Delaware Route 273) and jogging north to Delaware Route 4, where you take a left and proceed east until you're back in the Free State.

The funniest response comes courtesy of Curt Kinder of Green Cove Springs, Fla., who wrote Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to protest the turnpike's tolls and backups. It wasn't Kinder's vow to "shun the tollbooth" that was funny but the fire-breathing response from turnpike spokesman Robert B. King.

"I would hasten to point out that deliberate toll evasion within this state, as in most other states, is illegal and subject to enforcement," he wrote.

When called, King attributed that statement to turnpike official P.J. Wilkins, who said he thought taking these toll plaza-avoidance routes could be a ticketable offense. He suggested a call to the Delaware State Police just to make sure. Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh, a police spokesman, said motorists are free to choose toll bypass routes. "You're allowed to do that," he said.

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