Getting There: Thanksgiving Travel Rule 1: Don't

But if you must, there are ways to avoid the worst

November 14, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The best way to approach Thanksgiving is undoubtedly to stay put. If you have family you must see, emotionally bludgeon them into coming to you. But if that won't work and you have to travel, there are ways to avoid a miserable slog through crawling traffic.

The problem is, most of them have been discovered.

People learned that if you waited to leave until after work on Wednesday, every road leading out of town would turn into a parking lot. So they left early Wednesday. You know what happened. Now the travel on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is almost as bad as Wednesday.

Why this country bothers to pretend that any work gets done Thanksgiving week is beyond me.

Inevitably, some of us will work into that Wednesday — out of dedication or simple fear of the boss. And Mom will still want us at the family table, bless her controlling heart. So it's off to North Carolina or New Jersey or some other godforsaken place we thought we had escaped long ago.

Then we get to rediscover how incredibly worse the Sunday return trip is compared with the miserable slog to get there.

Don't you just love holidays?

Anyway, there are a few spots in the Northeast that qualify as the worst of the worst chokepoints for holiday travel. For each, there are alternatives, but you have to be willing to think beyond the interstates.

Here are the some of the most dreaded:

Delaware and New Jersey. The Maryland portion of the trip up Interstate 95 usually isn't so bad, but then comes Delaware, then comes the New Jersey Turnpike, then come the homicidal impulses. A trip that should take three hours can easily turn into seven.

Alternative 1: Take Interstate 83 north to York, Pa., and take the Market Street exit. Go straight at the end of the ramp for less than a mile. Take a right onto U.S. 30 east. At Lancaster, pick up U.S. 222 north. From 222, you can get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Philadelphia, Trenton, N.J., and Princeton, N.J. For northern New Jersey, Westchester County New York and inland Connecticut, take 222 around Reading to Pennsylvania 863 or 100 north. Take a left on either to Interstate 78 east. This should be smooth driving at least as far as the Interstate 287 interchange, where many roads branch off. This route saves a bundle in tolls and lots of aggravation. Don't go via Harrisburg. Traffic is nasty and it's a longer route.

Alternative 2: If you're heading for Wilmington, Del., south Jersey or Philadelphia, you might want to take 95 but bypass the Delaware Toll Plaza, where you can wait an hour to be overcharged for a 12-mile ride. Here's a popular bypass for 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. For simplicity and a convenient pit stop, get off 95 and bear right on Maryland 272 to North East, take a left on U.S. 40 to Delaware 896, take a left and get back on the Delaware Toll road.

Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia: From the Capital Beltway to Fredericksburg, you'll welcome the blissful stretches where you go as fast as 15 mph.

Alternative: U.S. 301 through Southern Maryland. It's a stop-and-go slog but marginally better than I-95 if you're heading for Richmond and points south. You can avoid the worst of the Waldorf strip by taking an unofficial bypass: As you approach Waldorf from the north, stay on Route 5 South (Mattawoman-Beantown Road). When Route 5 makes a sharp left, stay straight on St. Charles Parkway. Follow that to the end and you'll merge back onto U.S. 301 just north of La Plata. Continue to the U.S. 301 bridge to Virginia. U.S. 301 will take you to Richmond, U.S. 17 to Norfolk.

Breezewood, Pa. Nobody breezes through the junction of I-70 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Alternative: From I-70 take Interstate 81 north to Pennsylvania Route 16 at Greencastle and head west to Mercersburg. Head west over the mountain to McConnellsburg and pick up U.S. 522 north. Get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Fort Littleton and you won't have to deal with Breezewood. Will it save much time? Maybe not, but it's a pretty drive if the sun's still out.

The Capital Beltway, from I-95 west across the American Legion Bridge and down into Northern Virginia. The misery continues as you head west on Interstate 66 and U.S. 29.

Alternative: If I were headed to Charlottesville, Greensboro, Charlotte or Atlanta, this is what I'd try rather than play with the tractor-trailers on I-81. Interstate 70 to U.S. 340 south. Take split to U.S. 15 to U.S. 50, using the Leesburg Bypass, and continue until it joins with U.S. 29 south near Warrenton. Once south of Warrenton, U.S. 29 is a great road with light traffic all the way to Greensboro. Caveat: U.S. 15 can be slow, but it's usually better than getting caught up in the mess around Washington.

If any readers want to share tips on infamous bottlenecks and how to get around them, your fellow human creatures will be most grateful. Just e-mail them to:

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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