Least-scary route from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, for a nervous passenger
July 22, 2019 8:56 PM   Subscribe

My husband, son, and I will be driving from Baltimore to Pittsburgh later this week. Although I'm not the driver, I would like to avoid hills and trucks, to the extent possible.

We're renting a minivan, and I am not sure my husband has ever driven one. (He might have driven a VW bus decades ago, before I even met him. But he has not driven a minivan as long as I have known him, which is a long time!) He also does not drive frequently. Having said that, I think he is a good and safe driver.

I, however, am a nervous passenger. So to the extent possible, it would be great if we could take a route from Baltimore to Pittsburgh that avoided hills and big trucks, to the extent that is possible.

Google Maps suggests I-70W and I-76W. Are those good options, given the things I am hoping to avoid? (I'm guessing . . . no? But I don't really know.)
posted by merejane to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Is this about actual safety or easing your anxiety? The longer you are on the road, the more danger you’re in. So the shortest route may be the safest. Can you sit in the far back, where maybe you’re less likely to stress?
posted by bluedaisy at 9:26 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The interstate and turnpike (Google's suggested route) will have cargo trucks, but it also goes underneath several mountain ridges that you will have to go over if you take an alternate route. I've done many of the routes at various times and while I enjoy the scenic route, for unconfident drivers I would recommend the interstate.
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Would you feel more comfortable in a bus, like a Greyhound bus? Either only you, or all 3 of you?

Would it help to drive around with your husband a couple times before the actual trip?
posted by at at 10:20 PM on July 22


I drive that route fairly frequently, and the last time I did it was in the shotgun seat in a minivan, navigating for a sixteen-year-old who just got his full driver’s license the week before and who had about an hour’s experience in that minivan beforehand.

He was nervous, but was fine. There aren’t any “serious” hills, and you’re going to get trucks and idiot drivers everywhere.
posted by Etrigan at 3:51 AM on July 23


OP here, to quickly answer a couple questions. We are helping our son move to Pittsburgh, so the back of the minivan will be packed with all his gear, and a bus is not an option. Also, my husband won't be getting to Baltimore (from NYC) until Thursday, which is moving day. He'll pick up the rental van, we'll load it up, and hit the road. So unfortunately, no time to practice.

It is true, however, that this is probably more about easing my anxiety than actual safety!
posted by merejane at 4:49 AM on July 23


Well, I did this taking my son to graduate school, though from Connecticut. My daughter, who had just gotten her license did some of the driving. I don't remember that we were greatly bothered by trucks.

The PA Tpke was one of the first interstates, built straight with few curves because they had not yet learned that a curvy road reduced boredom. As such, it's a great road for the "right lane at the speed limit" approach that is appropriate for a heavily loaded van. The typical van is an easy vehicle to drive and the higher seating position improves visibility.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:27 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Just to put your mind at ease about the vehicle - I drive a minivan and find it WAY easier to drive than a car. There is so much visibility and they handle very easily. It's not like driving a box truck, etc.

I don't love driving with my husband (too fast! too close! argg!) so I try not to pay attention. He's perfectly capable so he doesn't need me.

It's summer so roads will be busy and trying to avoid traffic and trucks will be tricky.

If I were you I'd have a bloody mary with breakfast and get some headphones for music and a book to read. A verbal nervous passenger probably does more harm than good!

Good luck!
posted by beccaj at 6:12 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


If you're willing to add about 40 minutes (15%) to your drive, take I70 to I68 and head into W Virginia, then up I79 to Pittsburgh. This will take you away from the main trans-PA route, which with all those trucks really can be a nightmare. I confess I don't know I79 (the last 75 miles), but the Maryland part of the drive is pleasant and rolling, not hilly.
posted by ubiquity at 6:41 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


PGH is part of Appalachia. Nthing soothing distractions.
posted by brujita at 6:54 AM on July 23


Yeah, Pittsburgh is in the mountains. There's nothing but mountains in between Frederick and Pittsburgh and no way around them. They are not scary single-lane Rocky Mountain passes by any stretch of the imagination, but there are lots of big hills to go either over or through (there is one tunnel on the route on I-79, right before Somerset).
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:30 AM on July 23


I'm a bit of a nervous driver around trucks as well.

I just checked to see if there were any parkways that could get you there; those tend to be no-trucks-allowed, and that would take care of the truck problem. It didn't look like that was the case. But Google maps will let you ask it to avoid highways during your route search, and I just found that you have two or three options using the older two-lane highways. It adds two hours onto your driving time, but it still looks like you're going fairly direct, and you may still encounter like one truck at one point but it'll probably be a lesser-trafficked route overall.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:21 AM on July 23


I would not recommend Highway 30 through Pennsylvania. It is narrow in places, very steep ascents and descents, and there is a lot of local traffic including trucks.

If you really really want to avoid the turnpike going through WV as ubiquity recommends may be the best of the bad options.
posted by muddgirl at 12:08 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Your final destination in Pittsburgh may also play a role in determining which route is easiest. The PA turnpike will take you to the northeast and eastern parts of the city much more directly than the WV route, which is best if you're going to the south or west. Where exactly is your eventual destination?

The I-70/I-68/I-79 route through Morgantown, WV, will probably not have as many trucks as the PA turnpike (I-76W), and is generally less stressful, I think, plus is a lot prettier. I've driven both routes many times and strongly dislike the PA turnpike for various reasons, including the many trucks.

Plus, if you are going into the city proper via the WV/I-79 route there is a SPECTACULAR entrance to the city through a tunnel. Note that you're immediate hit with city driving once you're through the tunnel, so don't let the driver get too distracted! Pittsburgh is not a particularly easy city to drive in if you've never done it before, with lots of narrow, hilly streets and one-ways. If you miss an exit or take a wrong turn just do your best to not get too stressed about it. You'll get there safely eventually. Also be aware of the Pittsburgh Left, which really is a thing.
posted by arco at 12:42 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Pittsburgh is in the mountains
In a very loose sense of the word, I suppose.

The most direct route is really the best here. Just take 70 to 76 and try not to pay too much attention.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:11 PM on July 23


I have driven a heavily loaded van between Baltimore and Pittsburgh many many times. Taking the interstate (PA turnpike) is kinda boring but WAAAAY less scary than any other way. I really really reccomend taking that way, and not the route 30 way. I used to be in a band with a guy who refused to pay tolls and would insist on the route 30 way, and i will put it this way, it did not save us money.
(brakes on vans cost money. driving a fully loaded van up and down those hills was not nice to the brakes.)
no one got hurt, not even close, but the PA turnpike way is WAAAAY less stressful, i promise.
(N.B. I have never gone the WV-I-79 way that some people are talking about. )
posted by capnsue at 5:41 PM on July 23


Thank you all so much for your replies!

I marked a few as "best answer." Essentially, they were the ones that spoke most directly to my anxiety! But I appreciate *all* the answers.

Thanks to this thread, I am convinced that the Google-suggested route is the way to go. (I was intrigued by the suggestion for a longer route, but one more thing: we are also transporting our son's cat, so for her sake, I want to avoid an alternate route that would add time, as long as the Google-suggested route seems okay given my other worries -- which now, it does.)

Thank you all again.
posted by merejane at 11:06 AM on July 24


Follow-up from OP: We had one glitch -- the car rental place did not have a minivan after all (even though that is what I reserved), so they "upgraded" us to an SUV, with less cargo space. That was -- not fun. Also, my husband had never driven an SUV.

But in the end, it all worked out. I will say, though, that there are a LOT of trucks on the PA Turnpike!! And since I first learned about the term "Jersey barriers" from this thread, I was much more aware of them. For the last third or so of the trip, I just stopped looking. I was too anxious to read a book, so I scrolled through reddit. But we made it, safe and sound! (Thank you Husband, for your driving skillz.)

And thank all of, again, for the great advice. I showed this thread to my husband, and he was very impressed.
posted by merejane at 12:38 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


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