Friday, August 23, 2013

I-95 Corridor Adventures

I am glad that neither my parents, nor Amber's parents, live along the I-95 corridor between Washington and Boston. Could this be the least fun area to road trip to? Perhaps, but occasionally you get some interesting experiences or stories out of it. Especially if you go to extreme measures to try to avoid all of the traffic.

Normally when it's just me and the family, we avoid the I-95 corridor completely when going northeast. But since I had the rest of my curling team with me, I owed it to them to at least try to get to Philadelphia and back as quickly as possible, within reason. Here's how it went...

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Traffic jam #1: Downtown Richmond on I-95, caused by some bridge construction. This only cost us 2 minutes, so no big deal. Let's call this traffic jam the "appetizer".

Traffic jam #2: North (I think) of Fredericksburg, VA, on I-95, caused by a lane closure due to construction. This one cost us around 20 minutes; in hindsight, we should have bailed and taken US-1 for a few miles instead. (Maybe. Sometimes the side roads are even slower, as we'll see later.)

Side trip: Carroll County, MD. So, yeah, this side trip by way of Frederick (point B) had nothing to do with traffic. I just wanted to go take a route through Carroll County, which was the only county in Maryland I had yet to visit. (By the way, while we were in Philadelphia, I snuck out one morning and drove to Cumberland County, NJ. So I've visited every county in New Jersey now, too.)

Aside from some brief slowdowns on I-270, this route was mostly clear sailing, until...

Traffic jam #3: The ramps from I-70 East onto I-695 (both directions) in Baltimore. However, we got around that by staying on I-70 for another couple of miles, turning around at the end of I-70, and then taking the ramp onto I-695 South from the other direction, which was completely free and clear. Ha! (I wasn't the only person pulling that maneuver, by the way.)

Here's what the end of I-70 looks like (point C on the map). It just kind of, well, stops, and then spits you back out in the other direction.

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Their original plan was to build I-70 into downtown Baltimore, and I assume connect with I-95. But there's this giant park in the way, you see...

Google Maps traffic data (a frequent resource throughout this ordeal) suggested that we take I-895 through Baltimore. That worked out okay, at first...

Traffic jam #4: The I-95/895 merge east of Baltimore. That's another 10-15 minutes or so. Should have gone I-695. (By the way, it's about 4 PM here, on a Thursday. Fun time to be driving through a big city!)

Side trip: Avoiding the Delaware toll booth (point D on the map). Those people in Delaware are a bunch of jerks, charging everyone $4 to drive on their dinky section of I-95. Except for those of us who know how to easily drive around the toll booth, that is: take the last exit in Maryland, take local roads for a couple of miles, and rejoin at the first exit in Delaware. I thought this would be relatively quick, but our little money-saving detour actually added 10 minutes to our drive time. Was it worth the savings? ... Not really. Next time, I'll just pay. Jerks. (Avoiding the Delaware toll booth used to be more of a thing a few years ago, before the toll booth was rebuilt to handle more capacity. Back then, the toll plaza would frequently cause long backups, such that driving around the toll plaza would actually save time and money. Not so much today.)

Traffic jam #5: The I-95/495 merge north of Wilmington. Now...we left Raleigh that morning at a time that allowed us to miss DC rushhour. But, I completely didn't consider that it would put us right in the middle of Philadelphia rushhour, which might be even worse than DC rushhour, given how little capacity its freeways have relative to other big cities. Whoops! Live and learn.

Google Maps suggested that any attempt to take I-95 to I-476 (our next road) through Chester would prove slow and painful. Well, how about US-13? That could be fun.

Side trip: US-13, Blueball Avenue, and other scenic local roads. Basically, taking US-13 from Delaware into Marcus Hook, PA, was a BAD DECISION. For one thing, it goes through a run down part of town - that doesn't bother me so much, but maybe it's not the best thing to do when you have trusting passengers with you. But we spent several minutes basically stopped on US-13, at which point I made a rather brash U-turn (apologies to the car I turned in front of) so that I could take a road called Blueball Avenue (point E on the map) into an even worse part of town than we were already in. So, that was fun. I think the moral of the story is that when it comes to Philadelphia at rushhour, you can't win. May as well stay on the freeways. Or, just don't come here.

Traffic jams #6 and #7: Not done yet! The ramp from I-95 North to I-476 north was backed up, costing us a few more minutes; then, I-276 north of Philadelphia had some backups, too. In the end, it took 9½ hours (including stops) for a drive that Google Maps says should only take 6½. (Well, 7, if you count the Carroll County detour.)

The southbound drive was much less eventful, although we did take some alternate routes there, too (point G to avoid backups on I-95 in Maryland, point H to avoid some supposed backups on I-95 in Virginia). The return trip took us less than 8 hours, as opposed to 9½. I considered that a huge success.

Sincere condolences to those of you who have to drive this way for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

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