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Road Trip to North Carolina

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02 Park Ave:
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.

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.

Dirt Roads:
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).

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.

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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