If you're planning to travel from the Baltimore area to the beach this weekend, it would be wise to take a little time to calculate your Bay Bridge tipping point.
What's that, you wonder?
The Bay Bridge tipping point (BBTP) is the geographical point at which a driver would be better off heading north and going around the top of the bay than he or she would be using the Bay Bridge.
Each individual's BBTP is different based on starting point, ending point, time of travel and personal preferences.
The first step is to calculate your raw BBTP. You can do this using Mapquest or Google Maps or any other mapping program that may be available.
First you need the address of your starting point and that of your beach destination. The tipping point can change depending on destination. If you're heading to Rehoboth, your BBTP will be far different than if you're heading to Ocean City. Whether you're headed to downtown O.C. or the north end of the barrier island also can tip the choice of routes.
Then do a rough plotting of the course. If it takes you around north of the bay, it's almost certain that will be the better route for you. That means your tipping point is to the south. Generally, the raw BBTP for central Ocean City is right around Putty Hill. Anywhere north of that, you should go north; anywhere south, use the Bay Bridge.
But the raw BBTP isn't the important measure - except if you're traveling at a time when you can expect the roads to be congestion-free. You need the Adjusted BBTP.
To get that, you need to know approximately how long it will take to travel using both routes. Mapquest and Google both allow for override strategies that will let you calculate approximate time of traveling via each route. The difference between the two is crucial to calculating your BBTP.
Mapquest, for instance, estimates the time it will take to get from 501 N. Calvert St. to a hotel at 9100 Coastal Highway at 2 hours, 52 minutes. To go via the northern route would take you 3 hours, 16 minutes. But its default northern route takes you through the Delaware Toll Plaza, which must be avoided at all costs. Use Pulaski Highway and North Mauldin Avenue in the town of North East as an interim destination. That avoids the plaza and adds only two minutes to the trip.
So now your difference is 26 minutes in favor of the Bay Bridge. Here's where science hands off the ball to art.
Now you need to use your experience, any information you can gather and a dollop of common sense to arrive at your Adjusted BBTP. Considering your time of departure, you need to estimate the level of congestion you would encounter on either route.
Let's say you're leaving at 4 p.m. on the Friday before a major beach holiday. You figure you can anticipate some delay on Interstate 95 around White Marsh, but you also know it's a time of peak congestion on the Bay Bridge and its approaches. At such times, the traffic on U.S. 50 can back up to Interstate 97 and lead to delays of 30 minutes to an hour.
Estimate backups will add 15 minutes to the trip up Interstate 95 and 45 minutes to get to and across the Bay Bridge. That 30-minute difference wipes out the bridge's advantage in the raw BBTP by 4 minutes and places our departure point just north of the tipping point. Bye-bye, bridge.