How to avoid hellish DC holiday traffic?
November 18, 2006 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving from DC to southeastern Pennsylvania on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Help me gauge a good time to leave and choose a route.

I've already read this post and it has some good advice. I'm specifically looking for more information about how clogged the highways are likely to get and what I can do to avoid this. (Getting out to the Beltway is not a problem, although you get bonus points if you have an alternate route to get to either I-95N or I-270N.)

We're leaving on Wednesday night after 6PM. If I had a preference, we'd go on Tuesday, but I don't have enough vacation time to take Wednesday off. Leaving early on Thanksgiving is also out of the question; we have to be up early to help cook.

Normally, when I drive to PA I take I-95N to I-83N via I-695. Absent any delays, this takes about 2.5 hours. I'm guessing, however, that all of the 95 routes are going to be ridiculously clogged. The other option that is taking I-270N to Frederick and then taking state route 15N to the PA Turnpike. The one (and only) time I did this was on Veteran's Day last week, and it was pretty smooth sailing. It took about 3.5 hours.

So my question is twofold: which route should I take? Will the normally-longer I-270 route take a shorter amount of time because of less gridlock, or will they both be awful? Also, what time is a good time to leave to avoid most of the badness? I'd like to not leave any later than 8:30, if possible. I'll also be checking out traffic reports before we leave in case any really dire delays could sway us either way.
posted by kdar to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (8 answers total)
 
I can't speak to the time-of-day part of your question, but having made this drive many times (I used to live in NC and drove up to Allentown PA most holidays), I can say I've had the least traffic problems when I took the 270/15/turnpike route. The only traffic problems I had there were getting out of DC on 270 and then north of Harrisburg once I got on I-81 (perenially under construction in that eternal, progress-free PA way), but it was always better than the times I took 95.
posted by jessicak at 5:25 PM on November 18, 2006


I've spent the last 4 years driving back and forth from the DC area to Williamsport PA. As far as taking the 270/15 way, it can get a bit snagged when you hit the strings of lights on 15 plus some parts where it narrows down to one lane (thanks PennDot construction!)

I've been taking the 95/695/83 way the entire time, only going the 270/15 way when I'm closed to 270 than 95.

I think both routes have ass-sucking involved, but that the major highways might squeeze out a winner versus the smaller 15. As far as leaving time goes, I would say to leave later, just to give some time for all the people who booked it as soon as they got out of work a chance to get off the damn road.

My sympathies for travellers at this time of year. I hated it for all 4 years.
posted by sperose at 5:29 PM on November 18, 2006


You might try going north on Rt 29 out of DC meeting up with Rt 70 north of Ellicott City. Take 70 east to 695. That would get you past all the nasty 95 traffic between the 2 beltways. There are stoplights coming out of the city but they lighten up a bit by Burtonsville and then they disappear. Be sure to check CHART before leaving for traffic reports in MD. The incident report will give you the reported lane closures.
posted by brownbeards at 6:26 PM on November 18, 2006


I'll be doing that drive Monday night. All I have to contribute is that if you don't have the FASTPASS (sp?), we've found that going to the right-most tollbooth lane seems to be the fastest (on all three or four toll roads).
posted by Alt F4 at 8:27 PM on November 18, 2006


I usually go ion 270 and then west on 70 to Ohio. All I can say is that even on a normal Friday afternoon, 270 can be stop-and-go all the way to Frederick. I would avoid it if I could. (I have tried a couple of back routes which are a little better, but nothing is great... we just have too many #@#$(*#@ people in the DC area!)

As for timing: Leave now.
posted by paschke at 3:16 AM on November 19, 2006


I live in Frederick, drive 270 twice a day to and from Bethesda, and take the 270/70/68 trip to visit family in WV. The consistently bad part of this trip is from the exit in Urbana (Rt 80) until you pass I-81 in Hagerstown. You will sit through a 5-6 mile leg of this traffic if you head up this way to hit 15. 15 will be very slow until you clear the northernmost exit in Frederick (Rt 26) - that's another 4 miles or so. There are ways to avoid the main lines into and through Frederick, but the tradeoff is the time you'll spend with traffic lights, side road traffic, etc. For instance, you can exit at Urbana and take 355 the rest of the way into Frederick, then take Market Street all the way through and north of town, picking up 15 at that Rt 26 exit.

Have you considered taking 97 as far as you can go? You can take it from DC up to and across 70, through Westminster and pretty close to Hanover. That's fairly near York, and more direct than heading up 270.

As for time of evening, I would opt later rather than earlier.
posted by ersatzkat at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2006


Thanks for the advice, everyone.

ersatzkat: Is 97 a real highway kind of route, or is it like Route 1 with stoplights every mile or two?
posted by kdar at 11:49 AM on November 19, 2006


It's traffic lights until you break free of Leisure World above Wheaton, then much more relaxed - it's downright bucolic once you get north of I-70.
posted by ersatzkat at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2006


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