Driving DC-NYC: a good alternate (and toll-free!) route
I travel between Richmond and the NYC area about once a month on average. Usually I fly, but if I need a car when I'm there and am traveling at off-peak times I'll drive.
I drove up last weekend, leaving Richmond at 9:30 am the Friday after Thanksgiving and coming back Sunday. The Washington Post and other news sites posted warnings about the extensive delays at the Delaware toll plaza due to construction, so I wanted to avoid I-95.
Often I will exit I-95 just north of Richmond and take VA 207/US 301/DE 896 to bypass DC and Baltimore, but 301 is very slow with all the lights and congestion in the Waldorf area---probably slower than the Beltway most of the time.
So with traffic being light on Black Friday, I took 95 to the inner loop of the Beltway (crossing at the American Legion Bridge), back on 95 in Maryland to 695/Baltimore Beltway west/northbound, then I-83 north into Pennsylvania, exiting at York. In York, PA I hopped on the US 30 expressway, connecting to the US 222 expressway in Lancaster and up to Reading. US 222 then narrowed down to 2 lanes for a short stretch before hooking up with I-78 in Allentown. From Allentown it's about an hour and a half to the Holland Tunnel, if 78 is moving at normal speed.
My trip from Richmond to South Orange, NJ (about 12 miles west of Manhattan) took 5 hours and 50 minutes. It takes 90 minutes to drive from Richmond to DC with no traffic, so figure a little over 4 hours from DC to NY on this route. The return on Sunday took 8 hours back to Richmond due to the usual holiday traffic backups on I-95 southbound in Virginia, but I expected that on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Driving through Pennsylvania is much more scenic and less crowded than 95 and the Jersey Turnpike. And the icing on the cake is, this route has no tolls northbound/eastbound and only a 75 cent toll on the return trip (crossing the river at the NJ/PA border on 78 westbound).
This will be the route I use from now on when driving up north. I highly recommend it!
It's easy to avoid the DE/MD toll (which is $4 each way) with a slight detour by the U. of Delaware exit in Newark.
However, it's harder avoiding the toll that is by the Susquehanna River (by the Cecil/Harford county line). That is $5 but it's just one-way northbound.
People in SE PA don't have to worry about PA to DE tolls by just staying on I-95 and not going on the Del Mem Bridge.
From Balt County MD to the western suburbs of Philadelphia (e.g. towns like Drexel Hill PA), it's possible to take US-1 up, and avoid the $5 toll but I think it's a longer more tedious way to do so just to avoid the $5 toll.
And, with a final destination most places in NJ, it makes even less sense to take roads like US-1 or I-83. The Del Mem Bridge toll ($3 southbound) if in Southern NJ, and the Susquehanna toll ($5 northbound) are pretty much unavoidable, but most of the other tolls can be avoided.
I don't have that much of an issue with paying tolls. My problem with the Delaware Turnpike is that there is heavy duty road construction going on near the toll plaza and it has been causing major league traffic back-ups.
From Balt County MD to the western suburbs of Philadelphia (e.g. towns like Drexel Hill PA), it's possible to take US-1 up
This is the route that I give my DC friends when they are coming up to see me (northwest DE, just over the PA line from Kennett Square) on high-traffic days. The backups on I-95 in Delaware can be nightmarish. There is no traffic on Rte. 1 until you get close to Philly.
Thank God, I almost never drive south these days--if I go to DC, it's on Amtrak.
We drove this route again last weekend, leaving midday Friday and coming back Monday. The two-lane portion of 222 was backed up much worse than the previous time, however. (must have been local rush-hour traffic that had the day off on the Friday after Thanksgiving).
Coming back we stayed on I-78 past Allentown to PA 61 south, which connects with US 222 after it becomes a 4-lane expressway. That felt much faster as 61 is four lanes almost the entire way to 222, with only a few traffic lights, and has less volume. I-78 to PA 61 is 9 miles longer than I-78 to the slow part of 222.
One could also take I-78/I-81 all the way to Harrisburg and then hook up with I-83 south to Baltimore, but that's even longer...and Harrisburg tends to have very bad traffic for such a small city. I-78 often backs up for miles as it merges into 81.
Is that toll from that one I95 toll booth in Delaware? Wow.
Yes, it's pretty outrageous from a cents-per-mile perspective--one of the worst along the length of I-95, according to this article that also details the nightmare of construction-related traffic jams on that same stretch of road.
I live in northern DE and use I-95 several times a week, but thank God, I haven't driven south into MD in a long time. I would not want to deal with that mess. The traffic on I-95 between the MD state line and the exit for I-295 (for the DE Memorial Bridge into NJ) can be horrendous. There are too many roads coming together right there.
I grew up in the NYC area and moved to Virginia in 1999--which is when I started driving back and forth regularly. The Delaware I-95 toll was $1.25 with E-ZPass back then, $2.00 cash. They eventually eliminated the E-ZPass discount and raised it to $4 over the years.
The $5 Maryland toll going northbound on 95 used to be $2, IIRC.