Holiday travelers sidestep I-95 snarl

GETTING THERE

December 03, 2007|By MICHAEL DRESSER

Good weather spared travelers the worst of potential woes on the Interstate 95 corridor over the recent Thanksgiving weekend, but readers who chose other routes to the Northeast were glad they did.

Last month, I suggested several routes for avoiding I-95 and its dreaded parking lots such as the Delaware toll plaza and the New Jersey Turnpike. The routes generally took motorists through central and northeast Pennsylvania in a broad arc around Philadelphia.

Several readers offered feedback.

Laura Gaskins of Boston liked the suggested route from New England.

This weekend I took your suggested route of [Interstate] 84 to Scranton then 81 to 83. I would say that the driving overall was better than taking 95 the entire way. We did run into some traffic both on Wednesday and Saturday. Harrisburg was backed up Wednesday night around 5 p.m., which is to be expected.

On the way back we were making great time, there was hardly any traffic at all until we reached Hartford [Conn.] and it stayed backed up until after the 90 toll. Both ways it took us about 9 hours, which does not include stopping for lunch. I have not heard how the other route was on those days but I imagine it was not any faster.

Adam Berliner of Baltimore liked the route I called the Northeast Passage: I-83 to York, Pa., U.S. 30 to Lancaster, U.S. 222 almost to Allentown but cutting up to I-78 before hitting city traffic, then I-78 into northern New Jersey.

Thank you very much for sharing the secrets of the Pennsylvania Passage. My wife and I tried it Wednesday evening going from Baltimore to [New York City], and then Friday afternoon/evening on the way back.

It was a lovely experience. A nice change of pace from the monotony of 95 and the NJ Turnpike, the tolls, and Delaware traffic. Only about 45-60 minutes longer than the standard route through Delaware, but the knowledge of not having to sit in traffic is worth it, and with traffic through Delaware or on the Turnpike those extra 45-60 minutes balance out anyway. Costs about $5 more in gas, but the toll savings still make it an overall bargain.

Zelda Schuman traveled to Teaneck, N.J., the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Dreading the I-95 madness, she decided to take the Northeast Passage but did not check the weather forecast - as intrepid inland travelers should.

We left about 10:30 a.m. and encountered very little traffic on all the roads. We had a good laugh when we read about listening to the weather report near Allentown for a snow warning. As we passed Moselem Springs [Pa.] we encountered snow! Just a light dusting but enough to tell us that you know your business. The snow turned to rain and finally stopped just as we reached Teaneck.

"We took your advice and took [Pennsylvania Route] 863 and [were] unhappy with all the small hills and turns and decided we would skip that part on the return trip. We reached our destination in about 4 hours from start to finish. That is usually our time when we go on I-95.

COMMENT: Personally, I love curvy roads through the hills (for short stretches), but they're not for everybody. Alternatives for reaching I-78 include Route 100 a little further down 222 or Route 737 at Kutztown.

David Grabiner of Columbia can attest that 737 is a good choice. He took the Northeast Passage to Livingston, N.J., on Thanksgiving and back the following Sunday, and added that modification, which I will now adopt.

PA-737 is a two-lane road but is in good condition, with very low volume and no traffic lights at all (even the freeway interchanges are just stop signs); the speed limit is 45 with a few lower-speed curves. It is four miles between I-78 and US-222, and you also have to go on a six-mile non-freeway stretch of US-222 between Kutztown and Reading which has three traffic lights and is three lanes.

Grabiner reported he made the 235-mile trip (toll-free northbound, one 75-cent bridge toll southbound) in 3 hours, 45 minutes and didn't hit a traffic jam in either direction. He said the same trip on I-95 takes him 3 hours, 15 minutes to cover 210 miles - if there is no traffic. I-95 veterans can judge whether there's likely to be traffic when they're traveling.

John and Rebecca Gallo of Havre de Grace were appreciative of the tips after traveling to New Canaan, Conn., for Thanksgiving.

We have never been interstate people and always dread the New Jersey Turnpike. No matter what time we have left in the past we always sit in traffic. After your article was written, we tried the Route 222 to Interstate 78 to North 287 over the Tappan Zee Bridge. We made it in 5 1/2 hours with 3 stops. That is the amount of time we could have spent sitting on the turnpike. The drive was much more scenic and a lot less anxiety.

As for readers whose holiday travels take them south of Washington on I-95, I can only extend my sympathy. As I monitored traffic through the East Coast on Thanksgiving eve, it became apparent that I-95 in Northern Virginia - especially the stretch between the Capital Beltway and Fredericksburg - was the worst nightmare south of New York.

Unlike with northbound I-95, no palatable alternatives jump out at me. Anyone with help to offer is encouraged to send an e-mail to:

gettingthere@baltsun.com

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