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Author Topic: Road Trip to North Carolina  (Read 2254 times)

02 Park Ave

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Road Trip to North Carolina
« on: March 17, 2023, 03:11:54 PM »

I will be making a motor trip to Burlington NC from South Jersey towards the end of next month.  I would be departing here on a Saturday morning.

Each time I use Google Maps to get a routing it varies, south of Washington, between using I-95/I-85 and taking US29 the length of Virginia.

I am completely unfamiliar with US29.  From the maps it looks like it has a bypass around almost every city and town it encounters.  If anyone is familiar with this road could you please provide details about it and also your opinion about traveling on it?

Thank you.
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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2023, 05:55:20 PM »

I’m not the most familiar with US-29, but from my knowledge, it’s a continuous four lane divided highway through the state. Freeway bypasses exists around most the towns and cities, though some few mile traffic light infested stretches do exist south of Lynchburg and north of Charlottesville, and a few lights outside of I-66.

Outside of that, the highway is mostly free-flow divided highway with a posted speed limit of 60 mph, and 65 mph on the freeway bypasses (70 mph near Lynchburg). There may be a few short speed drops and rural signals but that’s mainly it.

Assuming traffic isn’t too heavy when you travel, you should be able to maintain 67-68 mph the whole way, with a bit faster where the speed limit jumps on the bypasses, depending how much comfortable you are going over the posted.

I-95/I-85 is a good routing as well, but just be warned I-95 will be a nightmare between DC and Fredericksburg if you travel at the wrong time.
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Dirt Roads

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2023, 06:55:08 PM »

From South Jersey, it is hard to catch either I-95 or US-29 at the right time on weekdays.  For US-15/US-29, you'll need to catch Wilmington, Baltimore, Frederick, Leesburg and Charlottesville traffic just right.  However, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Front from Culpeper all the way until get past Charlottesville (where you will then be driving in a scenic area in its own right).  If you are running along US-29 at night, the number of places south of Lynchburg that are open for rest room breaks are limited after 10PM.  In that case, just keep pushing to Danville where there are plenty of late night stops on US-58 close enough to the US-29 Bypass (Future I-785).

If you are trying to cut down the hassle of driving, a much shorter trip from South Jersey would be to use the new Toll US-301 (First Responders Highway) and deal with all of the toll bridges.  You'll need to avoid outbound Baltimore rush traffic south of Bowie and outbound D.C. rush traffic south of Waldorf.  To me, that's an easier math problem than when I used to "thread the needle" along all those points on I-95 (which is a worthless effort these days, since any hiccup is going to cause three or four traffic backups).
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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2023, 09:12:39 PM »

There are exceedingly few places to stop regardless of the hour between Charlottesville and the south side Lynchburg:
Lovingston at VA 56 for sure.

US 29 from I-66 to Warrenton and from US 33 to Charlottesville are frequently busy.  Driving US 29 north of its Charlottesville Bypass is especially bad.
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1995hoo

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2023, 12:35:50 PM »

I have taken both routes many times. Aside from my obvious frequent use of US-29 between Charlottesville and Fairfax County during my college years, I've used US-29 all the way down to Greensboro as part of trips to Florida fairly often just for a change of pace from I-95 or because of heavy traffic on the Interstate, especially when my travel has been close to a major holiday weekend. If all things are equal between the two routes (all things are never equal), using US-29 adds about an hour of travel time between the DC area and Greensboro, due mainly to lower speed limits and the need to stop at traffic lights. On the other hand, I find my blood pressure tends to be lower when I take Route 29. Don't forget there is about a 13-mile work zone on I-95 from Exit 143 to just south of Exit 130, a combination of HO/T lane construction for the northern ten miles and road reconfiguration for the southern three miles.

As a general matter, I agree with Mapmikey about the portion north of Charlottesville, although I'd suggest that the heavy traffic aspect extends south of Warrenton as far as Opal (the turnoff for US-17 southeast to Fredericksburg). The area between Gainesville and Warrenton has become what people in Charlottesville used to refer to as "Fairfaxed"–a once-rural area has become highly suburban with a lot of new developments and a lot of annoying new traffic lights. In the 1990s, it used to take me two hours to drive between my parents' house just east of Fairfax City and UVA's Central Grounds. Nowadays, the same trip via US-29 would typically take at least half an hour longer and it wouldn't be unusual for it to take three hours. The same phenomenon about suburban development extending out applies to the area between Ruckersville and Charlottesville, too.

Depending on how busy I-66 seems as you approach Gainesville, I've found over the years that it can be faster to go two exits further to the west to Exit 31 for VA-245. Go left at the bottom of the ramp, then at the end of the road go left again onto US-17 to Warrenton and connect to US-29 there. You add a little distance, but you also skip a bunch of traffic lights between Gainesville and Warrenton. (The more common alternative of using Exit 40 to US-15 is not as fast as it used to be because the commuters "discovered" that option years ago, plus there is an at-grade railroad crossing that can slow you down.) Another option my father used to use is to go through Warrenton, then take US-211 west to VA-229 south to Culpeper. You avoid Opal and some lights on Route 29, but you wind up in the middle of Culpeper, so I'm not sure it saves any time these days. Back when he went that way on a regular basis, neither the Warrenton nor Culpeper bypasses existed, so it did save a bit of time due to hitting fewer lights in those two towns. Once you're south of Culpeper, don't speed in the area south of the turnoff for Stanardsville–there is a nice flat straightaway after you pass the Sheetz station and the cops know how inviting it is. Once you pass the Bavarian Chef, you're past the worst problem area.

South of Charlottesville, I find it to be generally a nice road that doesn't have a lot of traffic and provides a fairly relaxing drive, other than a short stretch immediately south of the southern Route 460 junction. The one potential downside to that nice empty road, if you don't like to obey the speed limit, is that if the cops are out, there won't be a lot of other vehicles to attract their attention, so you'll need to pay attention. Also, don't speed through Tightsqueeze (speed limit drops to 45, if I recall correctly); I know a good number of people who have gotten tickets there.

I remember I once took NC-87 from Burlington up to Reidsville to connect to US-29 back in my law school days when I wanted to clinch all of US-29 in Virginia. Back then, that made some level of sense because otherwise you had to go almost to Death Valley to pick up Route 29. Nowadays, the new Greensboro beltway might change the equation. Note US-29 in North Carolina has a 70-mph speed limit for a decent portion of the section between the state line and Greensboro.

I think the suggestion Dirt Roads makes about considering US-301 over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Harry Nice Bridge is a very good suggestion. Connect to VA-207 and you'll hit I-95 near Kings Dominion. Note that while Google Maps shows US-301 in yellow all the way to I-295, it's mostly a two-lane road once you're south of Bowling Green. The most recent time I used that segment I found very little traffic, but I think I'd likely only go that way if I knew of a problem on I-95.
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02 Park Ave

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2023, 02:03:57 PM »

Thanks for this detailed information 1995hoo.  Would the fact that I will be making this trip on a Saturday late next month affect any of your recommendations?  I've read that I-95 can be very congested on Saturdays coming out of Washington, even south of Fredericksburg.  Would there be similar congestion on US29 then?

Google Maps frequently shows the same travel time for both routes from Washington to Burlington.
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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2023, 02:33:15 PM »

I remember I once took NC-87 from Burlington up to Reidsville to connect to US-29 back in my law school days when I wanted to clinch all of US-29 in Virginia. Back then, that made some level of sense because otherwise you had to go almost to Death Valley to pick up Route 29. Nowadays, the new Greensboro beltway might change the equation.

Upon reading this, I went to look up Death Valley, and as soon as I added "NC", Google Maps' only remaining suggestion was the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, near downtown Greensboro. I'm curious if this is what you meant, and if so, where the nickname comes from.
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1995hoo

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2023, 02:48:51 PM »

I remember I once took NC-87 from Burlington up to Reidsville to connect to US-29 back in my law school days when I wanted to clinch all of US-29 in Virginia. Back then, that made some level of sense because otherwise you had to go almost to Death Valley to pick up Route 29. Nowadays, the new Greensboro beltway might change the equation.

Upon reading this, I went to look up Death Valley, and as soon as I added "NC", Google Maps' only remaining suggestion was the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, near downtown Greensboro. I'm curious if this is what you meant, and if so, where the nickname comes from.

It's the name used in North Carolina for a short section of I-85 between roughly US-29 to the east and the old I-85/I-40 split to the west (prior to I-85 being relocated). It was a stretch of road known for having a large number of accidents.


Thanks for this detailed information 1995hoo.  Would the fact that I will be making this trip on a Saturday late next month affect any of your recommendations?  I've read that I-95 can be very congested on Saturdays coming out of Washington, even south of Fredericksburg.  Would there be similar congestion on US29 then?

Google Maps frequently shows the same travel time for both routes from Washington to Burlington.

Hard to say. I hate to give a somewhat wishy-washy answer, but I'd probably listen to the WTOP (103.5-FM) traffic report and then decide, but of course I live here and I need to decide on a route reasonably quickly when I'm leaving home. I don't know how far their signal reaches, so I don't know how far away they would be of use to decide how to go. A mapping app that includes traffic information might be a reasonable substitute.

In your case, late April means you would miss Easter and Passover weekend (Easter is April 9 this year) and, assuming you wouldn't be travelling on April 16, you'd miss most of the spring break traffic too (in Virginia, many school systems have spring break either the week before or the week after Easter). So those would be two factors in the positive direction. You'd also be too early for college graduations, so that's a plus (you would obviously want to avoid Route 29 on the weekends when UVA and Liberty University hold graduation, for example). On the downside, as the weather starts getting warmer Kings Dominion gets busier, so that's a factor in more traffic using I-95.

On balance, unless there is a big event in Charlottesville or Lynchburg (the latter is where Liberty is located), Route 29 is likely to have less traffic overall than I-95 is. The issue with an event in Charlottesville is not so much the Charlottesville area itself as it is that 29 has only two lanes per side for pretty much the entire distance between Gainesville and the Rivanna River near Charlottesville, so when traffic gets heavy the road becomes unpleasant.

Note that with I-95 you can always bail out to US-1, which parallels it, although it is certainly not an unknown alternative. Last time I went south (the Friday of Washington's Birthday weekend last month), I wound up bailing off I-95 at Exit 143 (south end of the HO/T lanes) and just taking Route 1 all the way to I-295.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"
—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

Mapmikey

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2023, 01:28:52 PM »

Two more potential alternatives:

US 360 from Richmond to Danville.  Pretty wide open once you leave Richmod's orbit.  Pairs well with US 301/VA 207 option using I-95 to I-195 to VA 76 (toll) to VA 288 to US 360.  Or you could go I-95 to I-295 to I-64 to Va 288 which is longer but avoids central Richmond.  US 360 has ample 60 mph sections but is a little sparse on places to stop at night.  Very few stoplights between Richmond and South Boston.  Definitely observe all village speed limits.  Google has this as just 14 min slower (and 17 miles shorter) than 95 north of Richmond to 85 to Greensboro - https://goo.gl/maps/kCWHFfK3jpNA6EY96

The other is US 1 parallel to I-85 wihin Virginia.  Mostly multilane and zero traffic south of Dinwiddie.  Only a couple stoplights.  In NC it starts going through a lot of 35 mph villages, so returning to I-85 just inside NC is prudent.

For the first time in several years i drove US 29 from Gainesville to Warrenton yesterday.  The first half of this is full of dense stop lights and if it is busy at all you will get hung up.  I endorse VA 245 to US 17, which has zero stoplights.

Surprisingly, US 211/VA 229 is a little shorter and only 7 minutes slower despite having to slog through downtown Culpeper.
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sprjus4

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2023, 01:54:50 AM »

For reasons of clinching or wishing to take an alternative route, those do sound like good potential alternatives. You could also do something like I-85 -> US-58 -> US-29.

I will ask though - if using alternative routes for the sole purpose of avoiding traffic congestion, trying to stick to the fastest routes - do US-360 or US-1 help much south/west of Richmond? Is I-85 bad south of Petersburg? I recall it being a fairly light route traffic wise, and it has lower volumes generally all the way to Durham. There is a small 5-10 mile segment west of Durham that is 4 lanes and carries over 50,000 AADT, but then it opens to 8 lanes west of I-40 and is free-flowing >70 mph even during heavy traffic.

I would imagine I-85 would be adequate for the Petersburg to Burlington leg of the trip, you’ll likely be moving 75+ mph the whole way with little obstruction, the only real problems would be I-95 between Washington and Richmond that may draw you toward the US-29 corridor.
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1995hoo

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #10 on: April 04, 2023, 06:55:48 PM »

I didn’t mention US-360 mainly because I had no idea what the best route down to Burlington would be. It’s a nice, relaxed drive, although it’s fair to note that it doesn’t help with the worst part of I-95. Absolutely obey the speed limit in Green Bay and Meherrin. I think I’ve never not seen a cop through Meherrin.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"
—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

sprjus4

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #11 on: April 04, 2023, 11:53:41 PM »

I didn’t mention US-360 mainly because I had no idea what the best route down to Burlington would be. It’s a nice, relaxed drive, although it’s fair to note that it doesn’t help with the worst part of I-95. Absolutely obey the speed limit in Green Bay and Meherrin. I think I’ve never not seen a cop through Meherrin.
Google Maps shows a 45 mph speed limit there... that's crazy. I get it is near a town but it shouldn't drop more than 55 mph. The highway looks rural. Definitely speed trap potential...
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Mapmikey

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2023, 03:26:51 PM »

I didn’t mention US-360 mainly because I had no idea what the best route down to Burlington would be. It’s a nice, relaxed drive, although it’s fair to note that it doesn’t help with the worst part of I-95. Absolutely obey the speed limit in Green Bay and Meherrin. I think I’ve never not seen a cop through Meherrin.

likely US 501 to NC 49.  I forgot Burlington was the endpoint.  Not sure where the worst part of 95 is for this situation.  If using 301/207 you only get 25 miles of I-95 in Virginia which could be even less staying on 301 to 295 which is 7 minutes slower.
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1995hoo

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2023, 03:39:13 PM »

I didn’t mention US-360 mainly because I had no idea what the best route down to Burlington would be. It’s a nice, relaxed drive, although it’s fair to note that it doesn’t help with the worst part of I-95. Absolutely obey the speed limit in Green Bay and Meherrin. I think I’ve never not seen a cop through Meherrin.

likely US 501 to NC 49.  I forgot Burlington was the endpoint.  Not sure where the worst part of 95 is for this situation.  If using 301/207 you only get 25 miles of I-95 in Virginia which could be even less staying on 301 to 295 which is 7 minutes slower.

Another possibility, though it's probably slower than staying on 301 to I-295, would be to stay on 207 to US-1 and head south to I-295 on there. You then decide between going west to Route 288 or east to I-95 to I-195. (I took the former option in February on our trip to Raleigh for two reasons–I wanted to clinch Route 288, and we hit the area right around time for the afternoon rush hour on the Friday of a holiday weekend.) I suspect passing through Ashland might slow things down more than the two-lane portion of Route 301 would, though.

As of the last time I used it, that two-lane segment of Route 301 provided an opportunity to spot some subtle error signs if you keep your eyes peeled–several No Passing Zone pennants were pointed in the wrong direction. It's been a few years since I went that way, though, so I don't know whether they're still there.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"
—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

sprjus4

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2023, 05:08:45 PM »

I’m still not seeing why I-85 is not adequate south of Petersburg, is there recurring congestion that way that I’ve missed?
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1995hoo

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #15 on: April 05, 2023, 05:27:14 PM »

I’m still not seeing why I-85 is not adequate south of Petersburg, is there recurring congestion that way that I’ve missed?

I don't think there's anything wrong with I-85, although perhaps the hassle of getting to its starting point could be a factor. But if you ask for directions on a road forum, people will give multiple alternatives. Certainly Route 360 carries less traffic than I-85 does, so in terms of a quieter, relaxed drive that might be a factor depending on one's preferences, and you do get to see the interesting set of shields where US-360 intersects VA-360.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"
—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

sprjus4

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #16 on: April 05, 2023, 05:31:06 PM »

^ Oh, for sure. US-360 is a road I’ve been meaning to clinch though I unfortunately don’t see myself getting to it anytime soon.
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NJRoadfan

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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #17 on: April 05, 2023, 09:09:12 PM »

Leave NJ at 5am, take I-95 and 85 and you'll be fine.
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Re: Road Trip to North Carolina
« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2023, 05:00:46 PM »

I want to thank everyone for their advice.

Unfortunately, due to an illness down there the trip had to be cancelled.

I had planned to stop at Maryland House to check Google Maps for conditions ahead to make a preliminary decision on the route to take.  Then I would listen to traffic reports on WTOP to make my final decision as I approached the District.

 I expected that I would be taking US 29 though.
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