Monday, May 03, 2010

State College Road Trip #19: The Numbers

For me, road trips often mean obsessive stat tracking. Let's discuss!

First, "Nights By County". Going into 2010, Centre County, PA (home of Penn State University) had an impressive streak going: 6 consecutive years with at least one overnight stay in the county. Last time we visited State College, we didn't extend the streak, instead spending two nights in nearby Brookville. This time, however, we did stay in State College, so the streak is intact for another year. The Centre County streak - now 7 straight years with at least one overnight stay - is the second-longest active streak, behind only Duval County, FL. (Duval's streak is 28 - my entire life - and will be extended to 29 later this year.)

Now...let's talk about the drive. Over the last six years, I've driven to and from State College quite a bit, and I've talked about it quite a bit, too. But I'm not sure when we'll be back in State College again, and the possibility exists that last weekend's trip was our last trip ever to State College (a slight possibility, but a possibility nonetheless), so now is a good time for some final statistics and conclusions.

I split the drive up into several "segments" in order to determine with route was the fastest, and then timed each segment individually each time I drove there or back. I've posted the average time for each trip segment in this Google Map: (click a line to view the average time for each segment, along with the route; be sure to click the lines rather than the placemarks)

View Raleigh-Durham to State College in a larger map

That's a lot of data to take in, so I'm going to help crunch the numbers for you. According to the data presented above (and some other data I've collected over the years), the fastest way to get from Raleigh to State College is by the route highlighted in red. Going by way of Harrisburg and US-322/US-15 adds four minutes; going by way of I-81 and I-99 adds 10 minutes. Some of these trip segments are highly variable, though, especially the in Washington area and the backroads through Pennsylvania (lots of slow traffic, not many places to pass). The westernmost route is the most consistent from day to day (and least frustrating), and is the route we most often take.

Besides that, there's a lot of good information (I think) associated with each line, so if you're interested, click on each line and see For example, how much time do we save now that I-99 is complete all the way to State College? Which route is fastest from Washington to Harrisburg?

This weekend's drives were the 36th and 37th times I've done this drive, respectively. The northbound drive (taking the westernmost route) was an average 7 hr, 39 min (not counting stops). On the way back, we went by way of Harrisburg, Frederick, and Washington, and registered our fastest trip time ever (7 hr, 17 min; previous record was 7 hr, 18 min; the longest ever trip time is 8 hr, 28 min, through the snow).

And that is the conundrum we most often face on this drive. The numbers say that it's fastest to go by way of Washington. But it seems that more often than not, we encounter heavy traffic in the Washington area, and the numbers don't verify. Therefore, I'll only go by way of Washington if traffic is expected to be moderate to light. I figured it wouldn't be too bad on a Saturday evening, and indeed, it wasn't - no delays whatsoever. Yay! (Sunday evening is an entirely different story, though, as weekend road trippers make their way back home. I avoid DC at all costs on Sunday afternoon or evening. I've learned that lesson many a time.)

But really, the main reason I decided to go by way of Washington was because I had yet to see the completed US-22/US-322 construction just east of Lewistown, even though widening has been finished for two years now:

It was very nice. No more being stuck behind a truck for seven miles! Unfortunately, in true Pennsylvania fashion, this non-construction zone was immediately followed by a new construction zone, where traffic was cut down to one lane for five miles. Oh well.

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