Wednesday, September 04, 2013

What's the Fastest Route to Toledo NOW?

Lately, we've been taking all kinds of crazy routes on drives north to Toledo, mostly for statistical purposes. (For example, on Friday we drove through Boone and Lincoln Counties, WV.) But on return trips, it's still about getting home as quickly as possible. So, I still time our various routes through Ohio, for the purposes of keeping up with which route is the fastest.

There are three main candidates for "fastest route to Toledo" that I've chronicled over the years, mapped here:

View Routes to Toledo in a larger map

When I first started driving to Toledo to see Amber's family (2006-2007), the stopwatch told me that the blue route - which I call the "Athens" route - was the best. But a couple of things have changed since then.

Along the red route (which I call the "Chillicothe" route), parts of US-35 in West Virginia have been widened to four lanes over the last few years, with a generous speed limit of 65 mph. That shaved a few minutes off the average red route time, such that it's currently about the same as the blue route time. About half the length of US-35 in West Virginia remains two lanes, upon which you're almost certain to get stuck behind a big truck.

The green route (which I call the "Cleveland" route) has long been a distant third place. (By "distant", I really only mean "about 10-15 minutes slower".) But recently, speed limits on rural interstates in Ohio have been increased to 70 mph. The Turnpike has been 70 mph for a year or two, but now all rural interstates in the state are 70 mph. That can make a big difference, given how much time the Cleveland route spends on Ohio interstates. By my calculations, the increased speed limit should improve the Cleveland route time by 10 minutes, making it comparable to the other two theory. (That takes into account that much of the Cleveland route is urban, and is still signed at 65 mph or lower. On I-77, only sections south of Exit 99 - a bit south of Canton - are signed at 70 mph.)

We tried the green route on Tuesday, and...well, we didn't see a 10 minute improvement. Extensive construction on the Turnpike mostly cancelled out the time savings we gained by driving 5 mph faster in the non-construction zones. We'll try the green route again some other time.

But, we're not done! A major improvement to the blue/Athens route is scheduled to open before Thanksgiving: the Nelsonville bypass. Nelsonville is the biggest bottleneck along US-33 between West Virginia and Columbus. Part of the bypass is already open, but not the part that bypasses Nelsonville itself (i.e. the only part that matters). Once the bypass is fully open, I suspect it'll save us up to five minutes. That'll make the Athens route the unquestioned fastest route once again*. At least until they widen the rest of US-35 in West Virginia (not happening anytime soon because it's not funded), or increase speed limits on the Ohio Turnpike even more (ha!).

* - A disclaimer. Amber's parents live on the southwest side of Toledo, near the suburb of Maumee. For us, that makes a route which approaches Toledo from the south more attractive. But for traffic heading to downtown Toledo, or north to Detroit, I'd say the green route (to I-280 and then I-75) is the fastest, if you don't mind the tolls and construction.

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