Paying the toll for telling secrets

The Baltimore Sun

The pitfall of pointing out the attractions of a road less traveled is that more people may travel it. That's why some readers were less than thankful about my post-Thanksgiving column pointing out an alternative to the Interstate 95 corridor for holiday travel.

Others, however, were delighted to learn of a way around the Delaware Turnpike, New Jersey Turnpike and other notorious parking lots.

A few readers even volunteered refinements that could shave a few minutes off the recommended route I dubbed the Northeast Passage. I haven't been able to vet them, but on the map they look promising.

George Gaylor (echoed by Martha Varisco) suggested the following shortcut at York, Pa., avoiding a westbound jog before the U.S. 30 exit:

"If you take the Market Street exit off I-83 before it makes the westbound turn, you will meet U.S. 30 and save yourself quite a bit of congestion and about nine traffic lights over the course of your eastbound backtracking. Don't turn at Market Street, but go straight through the light for about three-quarters of a mile."

Peter Wernsdorfer of Allentown, Pa., protests that the article gave away his "secret" route, but still generously offers a hint on Keystone State navigation.

"Now that the U.S. 222 bypass around Reading is done, it takes me about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from my Allentown area home to my parents' place in Timonium. Once the Trexlertown bypass is complete, another 15 minutes will be whacked off. If the stretch between I-78 and south of Kutztown were ever to get completed, my travel time would probably lose another 15 minutes. There's a way around that too: Take 737 (at Kutztown) between 222 and 78 and gain five to seven more minutes."

Morning person Marc Frederick of Manville, N.J., is sticking with I-95.

"I have used both routes mentioned in your article. In my experience the I-95 way is many miles shorter and at least 45 minutes quicker on the average. I just drove from home to Cockeysville on Thanksgiving Day, in the rain and not exceeding 69 mph, down the Jersey Turnpike, through Delaware and into Maryland on 95. I arrived at my destination in three hours flat (with a pit stop at the Maryland House). My secret? I leave between 6:30 and 7:00 A.M. Early is the key."

Eileen Hoffman of Garden State Exit 148, N.J., (funny how these Jersey folks have exits rather than hometowns) sputters, "I can't believe you told everybody!"

"After 20 years of suffering on I-95, I told my parents (in Baltimore) that I was never coming again! My daughter and I left New Jersey on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving at 8 p.m., headed out 78 west to Harrisburg, then cut down to 83 right into Baltimore. It was an unbelievable breeze, no traffic, no tolls - and the weather was horrible. ... Stop telling people! It took me 20 years to figure this out."

Michelle Carras just wanted to say thank you.

"I have taken that [I-95] trip for 18 years and become really mad every time thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could have avoided the backups by going through Pennsylvania. But for some reason my family never tried it. ... We love that area of Pennsylvania and I'm thrilled to think we can now have a drive through a bucolic landscape rather than sit in exhaust fumes for hours."

Bob McGee of Timonium writes:

"We have employed the I-83 strategy for years to get to Burlington, Vt., via Harrisburg, Scranton, Binghamton and Albany. It is interstate all the way except for the last 50 miles. No tolls except $1 in Albany. Mapquest still uses the I-95 route but Yahoo Map "discovered" the inland strategy just this year. The I-95 route is supposedly 10 minutes shorter. If you believe that, you will believe there are no tolls in Delaware."

Funny you should mention that.

On the way home from New Jersey about 9 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving, I took the U.S. 13 exit onto westbound U.S. 40 - the main road to Baltimore before there was an I-95 - right after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The time from the bridge toll plaza to the Maryland state line: 25 minutes. You can then cut back two miles to I-95 on Route 272 outside North East.

If you take Interstate 295 and the Delaware Turnpike, even under the best conditions, it takes roughly 17 to 18 minutes to cross the state from the river to Maryland. That's $3 to save maybe 10 to 12 minutes.

If Delaware actually delivered on the implicit promise of any toll road - that it will get you somewhere faster - the time might be worth the toll to a busy person. But far too often, you have to wait much longer to pay at the toll plaza than it takes to cross the state. (The night I was there, northbound traffic was backed up about two miles.)

So if you can't avoid Delaware entirely, that toll-free U.S. 13-U.S. 40 combination looks like a good deal. It's always stop-and-go traffic, but it certainly lessens the risk of running into stop-and-stay-stopped traffic on the turnpike.

Going toward Maryland, you can also cut south off the turnpike onto closed-access Delaware Route 1 to U.S. 40 to avoid a few red lights. If you think outside the interstates (and avoid the southbound bridge and the road to Dover), there really are no tolls in Delaware.

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