A Virginia Travel Guide

 

I had occasion to visit family and friends just past Raleigh NC area for the Easter weekend which was quite nice but it also meant driving through Virginia.  Below are some travel notes that may be of use for first-time drivers going through the Old Dominion on I-95.

When arriving in Virginia from over the American Legion Memorial Bridge on any afternoon on any day of the week, one will encounter the religious festival of Sprawl.  Sometime starting around 3:30 pm. 20,00 to 50,000 Virginians will begin to park on I-95 southbound and meditate on the wonders of rapid suburban growth.  The ceremony lasts about 30 to 90 minutes for each participant.  Visitors passing through are invited (actually required) to join in.

As the southbound traffic beings to move at near-normal speed, you will notice that the left lane is invariably crowded.  This is because Virginia is not a STKR state (“slower traffic keep right”).  Visitors cling to that lane in the hope that it will allow for faster travel.  It won’t.  And when the delays hit, everyone in the ”slower” lanes will pass the left-laners.

As you approach Fredericksburg, traffic will again grind to a near halt.  It is a little-known fact and statistical oddity that wherever one lives in the greater Fredericksburg area, all of one’s routine destinations (dentist, pharmacy, work, kids’ sports, etc.) are on the other side of the Rappahannock River.  This means that all local residents must use a 5-10 mile stretch of I-95 at least three times per day, usually at peak traffic times. Apparently, the federal highway planners were unaware of the consequences of going through the middle of town and eliminating old routes.

For the next 40 miles or so, the probability of delays due to road work or an accident is roughly 98.65% on any given day but even if one avoids significant delays in that stretch, there is still Richmond.  You might think that, heck, that whole metro area is only 1 million people so how could Route 95 traffic there be as bad as Baltimore or Washington? The trick to making Richmond a bottleneck lies in the fact that it is also the midpoint between Charlottesville and Norfolk.  So, I-95 and I-64 merge for a bit downtown just to magnify the effect.  It will be bad, maybe even horrible,  until you get well past Petersburg.

As a consolation, when you pass into the relative emptiness of northern North Carolina at preferred speeds, it will feel like liberation.  Don’t think about the return trip.

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  1. jmelvin Member
    jmelvin
    @jmelvin

    You remind me why I’m perfectly content to be well away from that part of Virginia!

    What area are you coming from to take that route?  If your route already takes you through Baltimore I’d encourage you go west from Baltimore and come across to Frederick, MD and down through Harpers Ferry to Winchester and through Lynchburg instead.  US-501 runs you down to Durham from Lynchburg anyway and you’ll get to enjoy some better scenery.  You might not end up saving time, but your blood pressure and mood might be improved across the Commonwealth!

    • #1
  2. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    And don’t speed! At all.

    I was able to get the officer who pulled me over not to hit me with a reckless driving ticket for going eighty in a seventy. In Florida everyone knows the sign says seventy but the limit is more like eighty three (except on the I-75 stretch from Gainesville to Wildwood). I thought I was being cautious.

    But in Virginia they really mean whatever it says on the sign. 😒

    • #2
  3. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Richmond is nice.  I don’t live far from there as the crow flies, but haven’t been in years.  This is why.

    • #3
  4. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Welcome to the Californification of Virginia.   We Californians know a thing or two  how to do infrastructure the right way- spend it on the Public Employee Union  Pensions instead  and I’m so glad that these very woke Virginians have finally seen the light.

    However, one little quibble  Bathos, – those drivers weren’t meditating on  the glories of Urban sprawl – that slower traffic was purposeful “traffic calming” – to protect the children you see. It’s always for the children. 

    One little historical note: LA doubled in size every ten years from 1884 to the mid-eighties, and until Jerry Brown took over in 1975 traffic was  always handled pretty well so actually urban sprawl can be dealt with if you want to. 

    • #4
  5. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    This is why I travel through there in the dead of night.

    Or aim to be out of it no later than 10am.

    • #5
  6. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Old Bathos: As a consolation, when you pass into the relative emptiness of northern North Carolina at preferred speeds, it will feel like liberation.  Don’t think about the return trip.

    Why on earth would anyone return to Washington DC?

    • #6
  7. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    There was supposed to be an Outer Beltway, but Maryland and Virginia couldn’t agree on where to put the bridges.

    Locals, of whom I was one ten years ago, call that stretch of I-95 the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

    • #7
  8. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: As a consolation, when you pass into the relative emptiness of northern North Carolina at preferred speeds, it will feel like liberation. Don’t think about the return trip.

    Why on earth would anyone return to Washington DC?

    Good question: When he got to Raleigh, he should have just turned west (not right!) and kept going for 500 miles or so.

    • #8
  9. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Old Bathos: As a consolation, when you pass into the relative emptiness of northern North Carolina at preferred speeds, it will feel like liberation.  Don’t think about the return trip.

    Great description.

    • #9
  10. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    And don’t speed! At all.

    I was able to get the officer who pulled me over not to hit me with a reckless driving ticket for going eighty in a seventy. In Florida everyone knows the sign says seventy but the limit is more like eighty three (except on the I-75 stretch from Gainesville to Wildwood). I thought I was being cautious.

    But in Virginia they really mean whatever it says on the sign. 😒

    The ten miles-per-hour rule mostly pertains, but reckless driving is set by statute as >= 80 mph, and that is enforced vigorously. It is a big shock for some visitors from wide-open states where autobahn-like conditions rule.

    • #10
  11. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    At 3PM, find a nice diner with Wi-Fi and get five good hours of work in. Check your traffic cams before leaving, you might be able to get in another hour or two before the floes break up. I do not miss the traffic at all.

    • #11
  12. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    For utter contrast, drive I-70 through Kansas. You can stand on your car hood at the Missouri-Kansas border and see Nebraska. The state troopers understand that you have to drive it at 80 mph or you will die of boredom.

    • #12
  13. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Chuck (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: As a consolation, when you pass into the relative emptiness of northern North Carolina at preferred speeds, it will feel like liberation. Don’t think about the return trip.

    Why on earth would anyone return to Washington DC?

    Good question: When he got to Raleigh, he should have just turned west (not right!) and kept going for 500 miles or so.

    Or head south for 20 minutes and had dinner with me and my hubby.

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I take I-295 and bypass Richmond every time.

    Old Bathos: Raleigh NC

    My original home town.  Born and raised there.

    • #14
  15. John Park Member
    John Park
    @jpark

    Years ago, when I lived in NoVA but worked some in Montgomery, AL, I’d drive down 81 to Knoxville, then down to Chattanooga, Birmingham, and then Montgomery.  All highway and I typically hit rush hour in Knoxville or Chattanooga. I learned not to leave too early, though,  because I had to wait for commuting traffic to clear on 66 so I could get to 81.

    • #15
  16. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    For utter contrast, drive I-70 through Kansas. You can stand on your car hood at the Missouri-Kansas border and see Nebraska. The state troopers understand that you have to drive it at 80 mph or you will die of boredom.

    Maybe the trick is to only do it once – and not on an interstate.  We drove it once pulling a camping trailer from east to west and while I don’t know what my wife thought, I enjoyed the trip.  Do remember winds were remarkably high one night so the next morning as we were leaving, and when we got there having seen an anemometer at the campground, I asked the owner about it and how high the wind went and was told “Don’t know, it was blown away.”

    • #16
  17. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Old Bathos: Below are some travel notes that may be of use for first-time drivers going through the Old Dominion on I-95.

    It’s a much nicer drive in the snow.

    • #17
  18. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    John Park (View Comment):

    Years ago, when I lived in NoVA but worked some in Montgomery, AL, I’d drive down 81 to Knoxville, then down to Chattanooga, Birmingham, and then Montgomery. All highway and I typically hit rush hour in Knoxville or Chattanooga. I learned not to leave too early, though, because I had to wait for commuting traffic to clear on 66 so I could get to 81.

    Yup, I-81 far superior to I-95.  When traveling to the northeast, I avoid the DC-Baltimore-Newark-NYC region if at all possible.  I made an exception this year for @iwe and @bdb.  Got lucky on the timing, so didn’t suffer as much as usual.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    John Park (View Comment):

    Years ago, when I lived in NoVA but worked some in Montgomery, AL, I’d drive down 81 to Knoxville, then down to Chattanooga, Birmingham, and then Montgomery. All highway and I typically hit rush hour in Knoxville or Chattanooga. I learned not to leave too early, though, because I had to wait for commuting traffic to clear on 66 so I could get to 81.

    Yup, I-81 far superior to I-95. When traveling to the northeast, I avoid the DC-Baltimore-Newark-NYC region if at all possible. I made an exception this year for @ iwe and @ bdb. Got lucky on the timing, so didn’t suffer as much as usual.

     I’m planning to drive in Chicago rush hour traffic tomorrow. You guys are making it seem like a walk in the park by comparison.

    • #19
  20. Mackinder Coolidge
    Mackinder
    @Mackinder

    Wait, you forgot to mention “The Great Merge,” where the southbound express lanes end and merge with the non-express lanes on I-95. If you’ve never done this before, are in the express lanes, and are wondering why you are in standstill traffic IN THE EXPRESS LANES for 30 minutes, this is why.

    • #20
  21. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    I purposed to never again live where I had to go East on the interstate in the AM and West on the interstate in the PM.  Worked, too. 

    Then we moved to Houston and I went North and South, never touching an interstate.  Glorious!  But, not too many years pre-retirement, my employer moved downtown (right on 59) and we lived out 290 on the west side of town.  

    Aargh.

    • #21
  22. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Virginia may be for lovers, but it sure isn’t for drivers.

    • #22
  23. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Virginia may be for lovers, but it sure isn’t for drivers.

    And the greenies like it when drivers suffer. /:

    • #23
  24. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    When I travel to NC to visit my son in Durham, I come from the opposite direction. My question each time is, What on earth is up with the interstate (I think it’s I-20) in South Carolina? It’s in terrible condition. Always. Georgia—smooth sailing. North Carolina—good road. In between—it’s like the surface of the moon. 

    Any South Carolinians here who can shed some light on this mystery?

    • #24
  25. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Suspira (View Comment):

    When I travel to NC to visit my son in Durham, I come from the opposite direction. My question each time is, What on earth is up with the interstate (I think it’s I-20) in South Carolina? It’s in terrible condition. Always. Georgia—smooth sailing. North Carolina—good road. In between—it’s like the surface of the moon.

    Any South Carolinians here who can shed some light on this mystery?

    This one’s for you, @stad.

    • #25
  26. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Suspira (View Comment):

    When I travel to NC to visit my son in Durham, I come from the opposite direction. My question each time is, What on earth is up with the interstate (I think it’s I-20) in South Carolina? It’s in terrible condition. Always. Georgia—smooth sailing. North Carolina—good road. In between—it’s like the surface of the moon.

    Any South Carolinians here who can shed some light on this mystery?

    I’ve found the roads in SC to be pretty good, except for I95, which is horrible everywhere.

    We don’t really have the freeze-thaw cycle that destroys roads in the midwest.

    But for whatever reason, I think that SC has good roads.

    • #26
  27. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Fredericksburg, Richmond, and the stretch between Augusta and Columbia: all areas where the Confederacy made desperate last stands and where traffic sucks, often for no apparent reason.  Coincidence?  Residual psychic forces?

    I am still of the opinion that all road design in Arlington, Alexandria and northern Fairfax County is based on an original intention to confuse invading bluecoats.  Why else would main roads suddenly converge for no reason at a place called Seven Corners?   Jeb Stuart’s incredibly rapid troop movements at Second Manassas probably could not be repeated on existing roads at rush hour.  Heck, the mid-day lunch hour traffic at Tyson’s Corners is now measurably worse than AM or PM traffic.

    • #27
  28. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Fredericksburg, Richmond, and the stretch between Augusta and Columbia: all areas where the Confederacy made desperate last stands and where traffic sucks, often for no apparent reason. Coincidence? Residual psychic forces?

    I am still of the opinion that all road design in Arlington, Alexandria and northern Fairfax County is based on an original intention to confuse invading bluecoats. Why else would main roads suddenly converge for no reason at a place called Seven Corners? Jeb Stuart’s incredibly rapid troop movements at Second Manassas probably could not be repeated on existing roads at rush hour. Heck, the mid-day lunch hour traffic at Tyson’s Corners is now measurably worse than AM or PM traffic.

    Correction, Stonewall Jackson, not Stuart. A few years ago, I took a day-long minibus ride with a pair of historians covering the route of Jackson’s movements over those three days with stops at key points—a birthday present from my wife. Actually the highlight was standing on the tree line where the Iron Brigade withstood the attack that came from Jackson.  The entire space is preserved as it was then (though, more trees now).

    • #28
  29. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Old Bathos: As you approach Fredericksburg, traffic will again grind to a near halt.  It is a little-known fact and statistical oddity that wherever one lives in the greater Fredericksburg area, all of one’s routine destinations (dentist, pharmacy, work, kids’ sports, etc.) are on the other side of the Rappahannock River.  This means that all local residents must use a 5-10 mile stretch of I-95 at least three times per day, usually at peak traffic times.

    To be fair, they are in the process of building two new bridges across the river to accommodate local Fredericksburg traffic. 

    • #29
  30. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: As you approach Fredericksburg, traffic will again grind to a near halt. It is a little-known fact and statistical oddity that wherever one lives in the greater Fredericksburg area, all of one’s routine destinations (dentist, pharmacy, work, kids’ sports, etc.) are on the other side of the Rappahannock River. This means that all local residents must use a 5-10 mile stretch of I-95 at least three times per day, usually at peak traffic times.

    To be fair, they are in the process of building two new bridges across the river to accommodate local Fredericksburg traffic.

    I knew the whole area was in trouble when Feds started commuting from Fredericksburg to DC.

    I will plug my general area.  Anyone with a chance to take Route 15 West around the area to defeat 95 should do so.  If you have the time.

    • #30
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