Getting There: Readers know how to avoid travel bottlenecks

Motorists share ideas for bypassing the worst traffic in the region this Thanksgiving holiday weekend

  • The gallery has its roots in BWI's predecessor, Friendship Airport, where visitors could step onto an outdoor observation deck to watch the activity on the runway. "Its a nice feature for the airport and connects travelers to aviation," says airport spokesman Jonathan Dean.
The gallery has its roots in BWI's predecessor, Friendship… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
November 21, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

It seems that for every good route to bypass the mid-Atlantic region's worst traffic bottlenecks, there's a better one.

At least, that's what Getting There readers tell me as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend looms.

Last week, I suggested strategies to avoid some of the worst traffic on the busiest travel days of the year – especially Wednesday and Sunday. At the time, readers were asked to contribute their refinements to these suggestions, and they responded generously with advice – though some weren't as generous with their names.

Anyway, Bob from Columbia weighed in on this week's Bottleneck in the News: the Delaware Turnpike. Since last week, Maryland and Delaware authorities have warned of the potential for excruciating backups – even worse than usual — at the construction-burdened Newark Toll Plaza.

Bob thought one of my suggested bypasses, taking Maryland 272 south to U.S. 40 and then heading east until one can rejoin Interstate 95 via Delaware 898, wasn't such a good idea:

I think this is back-tracking, as Rte 272 goes on a diagonal, and this route is much longer; also, the new Delaware Turnpike Rest Area is now open, and (it's) easy to get to on the Rte. 2 to Rte. 896 to I-95 route.

That is probably good advice for most weekends, but not this one. The backups could get so bad it may take a long wait to get to the Maryland 279 exit that leads to Delaware 2. While 272 backtracks slightly to North East, it is far enough from the toll plaza that backups are less likely. (If the jam reaches Perryville, take Route 222 to 40.)

A reticent gentleman from Annapolis provided another Delaware bypass:

Cross the Susquehanna bridge on I-95 and exit to Maryland Route 222 north. Take Maryland 275 north to Maryland 276 north to U.S. 1 north, where it becomes a little-used freeway into metropolitan Philadelphia. From there, he suggests taking U.S. 202 north (bypassing Philly to west and north) to the Interstate 76 Pennsylvania Turnpike extension.

I like that for those heading to metro Philadelphia or middle New Jersey (Trenton-Princeton), but there are better ways of reaching north Jersey or most of metropolitan New York.

Several years ago I pointed out what I called the Northeast Passage through Pennsylvania, which bypasses the tolls and the backups on I-95 and lets one travel in hassle-free tranquility to Northern New Jersey. It takes one up Interstate 83, through York and by Lancaster, Reading and Allentown up to Interstate 78. The reaction from users has been very positive, but each year readers suggest improvements.

This year, conflicting information prompted me to call the experts at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The questions were: How best to get from I-83 to U.S. 30 heading east at York and how to get from U.S. 222 to I-78 with the least amount of delay.

In York, said PennDOT press secretary Rich Kirkpatrick, do not take I-83 all the way to U.S. 30. Rather, get off at the Market Street (Route 462) exit but go straight across onto Hills Road, avoiding the turn onto 462. Kirkpatrick assured me that Hills leads one right to the point where 30 becomes a divided highway.

From U.S. 30, you go east to Lancaster and pick up U.S. 222 north all the way to the north of Reading, where the divided highway turns into a two-lane highway. PennDOT's local spokesman Sean Brown said the best way to get to I-78 is to get off on northbound Route 737 at Kutztown (not farther along 222, as I suggested). So there you have it: the new, improved, Delaware-free Northeast Passage.

Gary Schnappinger of Centreville found my suggested bypass around the notorious Breezewood, Pa., bottleneck "pretty complicated." His suggestion:

An easier and much more pleasant trip West is to stay on I-68 when you get to Hancock and follow it through Cumberland to Morgantown, W.V. Then pick up I-79 North to Washington PA where it meets I-70 or stay on I-79 all the way to Pittsburgh. NO TOLLS at all and a very good, lightly travelled excellent highway.

The only kicker is the possibility of some bad weather when the ridge is crossed near McHenry and Friendsville. People should keep an eye on the weather for the higher elevations of Western MD if they plan to try this route and watch their speed through Cumberland.

My Annapolitan friend thinks he has an even better way to Pittsburgh and points west, using a freeway stretch of Pennsylvania 43 so new it might not be on your GPS.

Take I-70 west to I-68 West to US 40 (Exit 14b). This is the lightly traveled two- lane remnants of the old National Road, going by historic Fort Necessity. Outside of Uniontown, US 40 becomes a freeway bypass - take it to the PA 43 exit. Follow Pa 43 (a.k.a. Mon Fayette Expressway) all the way to remerge with I-70.

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, wrote that he was surprised I hadn't mentioned his favorite traffic bypass: Amtrak.

I'll be heading down to Culpeper, Virginia, myself to visit family, and I am actually looking forward to leaving at the worst time: Wednesday after work. Why? Because I'll be watching movies on my iPad from my seat on the train. It sure beats battling I-95, I-66, and Route 29 —and it's $40 round trip (I booked early, but seats can still be had for under $100 round trip).

As of Friday, there were plenty of seats on the Northeast Corridor, but all but one train to Culpeper was sold out. Let that be a lesson for next year.

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