Drive time: CT to DC?
November 20, 2011 9:48 AM   Subscribe

How long would the drive from New Haven to Washington, D.C., take on Wednesday evening? I'm trying to decide how horrendous the experience will be so I can judge whether springing for Amtrack tickets would be worth it. We'll be leaving at about 6 from New Haven. Specific experiences with that drive or a similar one before Thanksgiving would be appreciated.
posted by reren to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
6PM? Under normal circumstances that would be a 5-6 hr drive. With the Thanksgiving traffic, I suspect it will be significantly longer.
posted by dfriedman at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2011

I took the bus from DC to NY the Wednesday before Thanksgiving about two years ago. It took 11 hours. 2 of those hours were spent in standstill traffic on the 11.2 miles of 95 that are in Delaware. Take the train.
posted by decathecting at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2011

Hmm, it actually gets better as you go (mostly) when leaving at that hour, and that first stretch is not going to be PARTICULARLY horrid, I think--lots of people aren't at work on Wednesday, so I think the rush hour reduction kind of cancels out some of the more-people-driving-to-grandma's. (Though you might start to regret this trip around Stamford!) I do think all of the south-of-NYC stuff will be pretty fine—the New Jersey stretch will be crowded for sure but that segment is never as bad as the drive through CT, somehow.

I think, all things being equal, I'd probably spring for the train? For one thing, that drive gets extra-funky if it's sleeting. It could CONCEIVABLY, worst case scenario, turn into a painful eight-hour drive. Which means arriving at 2 a.m., miserable and road-blind.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2011

take the train. Even under normal circumstances that drive sucks. If you insist on doing the drive at a minimum consider taking 287/Tappan Zee and then west through PA down 83 into Baltimore.

but yeah, take the train.
posted by JPD at 10:01 AM on November 20, 2011

This Wednesday evening? Two years in a row I drove through that area on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, once from North Carolina to northern Jersey and once to eastern Maryland. After the second time, I swore: NEVER AGAIN!
posted by bluedaisy at 10:02 AM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can potentially save money by taking commuter rails part of the way: Metro North goes New Haven to NYC and NJ transit goes NYC to Trenton (which is on the Amtrak line). It's kind of a pain though, since Metro North uses Grand Central and NJ Transit uses Penn Station.
posted by toesock at 10:05 AM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can potentially save money by taking commuter rails part of the way: Metro North goes New Haven to NYC and NJ transit goes NYC to Trenton (which is on the Amtrak line). It's kind of a pain though, since Metro North uses Grand Central and NJ Transit uses Penn Station.

Also, commuter rail is less luggage-friendly, which may be a consideration.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:08 AM on November 20, 2011

I would actually leave later - maybe 8pm? Should be clear(ish) sailing if you can safely drive til 2 am.
posted by shothotbot at 10:13 AM on November 20, 2011

I would probably take the bus. Yes, it will take a long time, but the train is wtf expensive (bus is cheap, cheap, cheap) and sitting in traffic doesn't bother me when I have a book. If you're traveling with kids or an elderly person or a lot of luggage, then I would take the train.
posted by anaelith at 10:18 AM on November 20, 2011

NB: I had to take the Amtrak Acela Express from Penn Station in New York to New Haven on the Wednesday evening prior to Thanksgiving in 2009. The train was way oversold and so full that I had to sit on the floor of the dining car with several other passengers. You might not even be able to get tickets at this point, honestly.

I was only allowed to board because an Amtrak delay in Poughkeepsie had caused me to miss my original train to New Haven. Amtrak sent a bus to deliver us all to Penn Station, and it ended up taking close to eight hours on account of the terrible holiday traffic on the Taconic State Parkway.

I would never, ever do Amtrak on the day before Thanksgiving again.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:20 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a weirdly specific sub-recommendation, but still:

If you get on the train at New Haven and discover that the only free seat is next to a fat guy with a nasty cough, take it. He's faking the cough as people get on board so he can have two places to himself.

(Memories of taking that train in 2009.)
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:03 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would plan on 11 hours, and I would not, under any circumstances, take I-95 as your main route.

Rather, from New Haven I would take Rt 15 (Merritt), then take 287N and cross at the Tappan Zee. Then I'd take either the Garden State Pkwy or 287 south to I-78 W, which takes you out into Pennsylvania and away from the shitshow that is 95. 78W basically becomes 81S at Harrisburg, and you can either stay on 81 to Hagerstown or take Rt 15 (more scenic but has traffic lights) to Frederick, and then take 70 into the Washington area. It will dump you onto 495, at which point you are basically on your own, abandon all hope, etc.

It adds a good 75 miles to the trip (allegedly 382 versus 307) but doesn't go through as many chokepoints along the coast, so it gives you many more opportunities to divert if you run into some apocalyptic traffic jam. E.g., if I-78 is looking really bad you can take secondary roads down through Reading/Lancaster/York PA and then take 83 south into Baltimore, you can choose to take any combination of the Palisades / 95 / Garden State / 287 in order to get through north Jersey (and buy cheap gas) and down to 78. This is my preferred route when doing the same trip on high-traffic days, or really anytime unless I'm going to do it in the middle of the night / very early AM.

Here's a Google Map showing the route.

Also, I would not assume that you can just go and buy Amtrak tickets for Wednesday at this point. It's not uncommon for Amtrak to sell out fairly fair in advance of major holiday travel days, and I suspect next Wednesday has got to be about the worst for the whole year.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Do you have an iPhone? If so, you might want to consider the Navigon GPS app with realtime traffic updates. This app has saved my butt on several occasions while driving from Boston to Princeton. There are several alternative routes to take and the app is great at redirecting you to the best option, even if it includes rural roads.
posted by brorfred at 11:32 AM on November 20, 2011

I wanted to mention that taking Amtrak near holidays can be pretty horrendous as well. While New Haven is north of NYC and thus the train may be less full, you can still run into situations where you're standing for a while. Yes, they overbook.

Taking the commuter trains can be extremely painful near holidays.

If you're willing to do some late night driving, it might not be as bad. Many holiday drivers don't like driving after 10pm and the roads sometimes clear. Obviously don't attempt this if you have trouble staying awake though.

Good luck and I hope you have a good holiday.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2011

last time I priced out train versus bus from Washington to New Haven, the train was cheaper.
posted by jb at 7:03 PM on November 20, 2011

You might not even be able to get tickets at this point, honestly.

This is probably completely true. If you haven't checked yet, check now. These sell out quickly. And I"ve had the same experience on the evening before Thanksgiving: the train being overbooked. I stood in a vestibule from Mystic, CT to NYC. Not really a superior experience - what we saved in time, we lost in comfort and sanity.

But your drive is going to be lousy. No, the worst of it will not be over at 8. 8 is early and people who could not get off work early will be just getting on the road. You won't see traffic lightening until 10 or 11.

I have lived in this corridor my entire adult life and made many trips to central NJ from both North and Philadelphia. You just can't win if you have to leave Wednesday. Leave as late as you possibly can stand. I would have recommended the train but I'd be really surprised if you can still get a ticket.
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on November 20, 2011

Miko is exactly right. I've had to make similar trips numerous times, and my strategy was always to leave late at night - i.e., 9 or 10 pm. I would generally take the Merritt Parkway to the NY area. At that point, if I was hitting the NYC area around 11 or 12 midnight, then I would aim for the GW bridge and 95. I would sooner skip Thanksgiving at home than leave New Haven at 6 pm for DC. And I don't see the train as a great alternative, for the reasons mentioned above.
posted by chinston at 8:56 PM on November 20, 2011

Response by poster: So, we drove, but we left at 5:15 am instead of 6 pm. The drive was a cinch. It took about 6 hours, stopping briefly twice, with a scarcely any traffic throughout the trip. We were pleased with our choice. Thanks for all the answers!
posted by reren at 10:38 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

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