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Author Topic: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again  (Read 1482 times)

VTGoose

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Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« on: December 24, 2016, 06:16:57 PM »

We made yet another trek south from the mountains to the gulf, leaving Blacksburg for #2 son's home near Tampa. We ended up driving on the Friday before Christmas (again, not my choice but it meant #3 son could come with us, leaving #1 son and his wife in town due to jobs).

Bottom line of the trip is that Santa needs to bring South Carolina some additional traffic lanes.

I opted for the "quicker" almost all-interstate route this time -- 81-77-26-95-10-U.S. 301-75 to get here, with one twist that almost worked. Most of it wasn't bad except I-95 in South Carolina.

The twist was to avoid I-77 north of Charlotte. Going home after Thanksgiving, we passed miles of stopped traffic in the southbound lanes due to an all-lane shut down on one of the last bridges over Lake Norman from a bad wreck. I expected no less for this trip, so worked to avoid it. At the bottom of Fancy Gap Mountain, we took I-74 east, then U.S. 52 through Winston-Salem and on to Lexington. Other than some 55 MPH speed limits around parts of the city and an adventure in lane shifts in whatever massive construction is going on north of I-40, the plan worked. U.S. 52 is an interstate-quality four-lane highway and there wasn't much traffic, so that part went well. Getting on I-85 was seamless and the multiple lanes had traffic flowing quite well -- almost. Just as we got into the construction zone where the road dropped to two lanes, traffic just about came to a standstill and we crept the the whole zone until it ended near Concord. Seems North Carolina drivers can't travel on two lanes without running into each other. The wreck at the far end of the construction had things backed up for miles. Other than that, though, I believe my plan worked since it didn't take any longer and we avoided the usual mess of getting through Statesville and the traffic that starts to get heavy around Mooresville on 77.

From there, travel wasn't too bad for a while. I'm still trying to figure out the odd milling of the asphalt around Columbia though. It looks like the whole highway was milled, but then someone in SCDOT had second thoughts and had random strips of asphalt laid down over parts of the lanes. Once on I-26 it was OK, since all the construction is done and all three lanes are open -- except until we got close to I-95. Eight miles from the junction, traffic started to crawl. We inched along from there to get on 95, then joined a massive clump of traffic heading south. We went from crawling to actually getting close to the speed limit to standing still. There wasn't really anything showing on Waze like a bad wreck or anything, it was just a large collection of people who can't drive. As we moved down the highway, we would come across someone in the left lane passing someone in the right lane at a 1 MPH difference. When they finally got past they steadfastly stuck to the left lane even if there was room to move right. It was like their attitude was "I'm not getting out of this lane for anything." That led to a lot of jockeying as people worked to gauge how much room there was in the right lane to get around the blocker without getting stuck behind someone else in the right lane going below the speed limit. This went on all the way to the state line and magically disappeared when the highway expanded from two lanes to three.

From there the trip was uneventful, other than the long string of up and down speed limits from Baldwin to Ocala on 301. It would be nice if there were a better route across the state other than I-4 (I've done that at night a couple of times and didn't care to do it again).

Return date hasn't been set yet, but I'm considering going further up I-95 to eventually pick up I-74 as a way to totally avoid Charlotte. It may be longer mileage-wise, but getting stuck in traffic around Charlotte kills any kind of time advantage for any route that goes that way.

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VDOT has its variable speed limits signs in operation on I-77 in the fog and weather area around Fancy Gap. They are LED signs, much like those that are showing up in front of businesses these days. The sign displays a black and white image of a speed limit sign and can be changed remotely to a lower speed than 65 depending on weather conditions. The new signs are part of a safety upgrade (to a place that already had message boards, lots of reflectors, and other things to handle poor visibility) that came after the massive Easter Sunday wrecks a few years ago.

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Bruce in Blacksburg
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Mapmikey

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2016, 08:02:19 PM »

Have you ever tried the Fall Line from Macon to Augusta?

You could avoid Charlotte, Columbia, and I-95 entirely by using I-40 west from I-77 to US 321 south to I-85 south to US 25 south.  Or pick your favorite freeway combinations to get to Augusta and I-520 around to US 1.  There is still a gap in the Fall Line so that you have to use US 441 to GA 24 but the open parts of the Fall Line are all but empty...

I'm going to Tampa/St Pete for my first extended stay the first week of February (going to the Tacobus!), but I have to go to Charleston both directions and Melbourne FL one direction.  So I will use I-4 (never driven) and US 92 btw St Pete and Kissimmee (already driven US 92 east of there)...
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hbelkins

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2016, 09:20:24 PM »

I'm not all that familiar with Georgia and the Fall Line, but how about some route that uses I-26 and I-81 out of Asheville? My first thought was 75-85-985-23-40-26-81, but there may be a better route through Georgia that avoids Atlanta and doesn't have that out-of-the-way westward tilt between Macon and Atlanta.

Getting from Florida to Augusta would be something I'd be unfamiliar with, but from there you could take US 25 north (bypassing Greenville to the west) to reach I-26 south of Asheville.

I'd rather go a little farther out of my way (and perhaps take a longer route) than to be hung up in traffic. But seems to me that if you go up 95 that far north, you're going well out of the way to have to backtrack to the west, and isn't 95 pretty crowded anyway? It sounds like a lot of your traffic woes for this trip involved 95.

Another possible way to avoid Charlotte would be to take US 321 north from I-85 all the way to Boone, then work your way to I-81. I can't really recommend US 221 from Boone to Independence, however. And my preferred route to I-81 from Boone (US 421 to TN/VA 91 to US 58) goes out of your way to the west.

I drove through Charlotte on I-77 around 11 a.m. on a Sunday back in August. Traffic wasn't that bad.
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VTGoose

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #3 on: December 25, 2016, 03:51:02 PM »

Have you ever tried the Fall Line from Macon to Augusta?

Tried that at Thanksgiving and the jury is still out on whether to go that way again. There is a write-up in the Georgia thread about the trip on the Fall Line. On "paper" it looks good but still needs help in the actual execution. When we went south it was in the dark, so it was difficult to tell much of anything and coming back north we hit an ugly weather front just south of Macon so the trip to Augusta was in a torrential downpour that again limited visibility. The main issues are getting out of Augusta on city streets and getting to I-16/75 at the other end in Macon. In between, the four-lane highway is very nice and has little traffic. The downside is that one has to go a bit too far west to come back east. I still contend that I-77 extended south from Columbia to somewhere around Gainesville would do a lot for that part of Georgia that it would pass through and offer an alternative to I-95.

Bruce in Blacksburg
 
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Mapmikey

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2016, 04:48:46 PM »

Another thought is that if going to Winston-Salem didn't bother you, continue on I-74 to Rockingham, then pick up NC/SC 38 to I-95.

Avoids Charlotte and Columbia entirely, though does give more potential I-95 shenanigans. 

An alternative to the Fall Line is to stay on US 1 to Callahan FL to pick up US 301.  Much of US 1 in Georgia is now 4-lane, though I'm not sure it has much in the way of 65 mph speed limits.

US 25 south of Augusta is open 4-lane for a very long way as well...

Also US 129 has a fair amount of 4-lane between Macon and Athens so one could use I-85 to US 441 to Athens...

If you are trying to do the entire thing in one day without spending the night (we always spend the night somewhere when going to FL directly from Fredericksburg), these alternatives might be tough...you'd be exchanging aggravation for an extra hour or two on the road...
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epzik8

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2016, 06:46:21 PM »

That's cool; my soon-to-be-stepmom's family are all from the Tampa area. She moved from Sarasota to live with my dad in Maryland back in 2010.
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VTGoose

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Re: Mountains to the Gulf (Southwest Va. to Tampa) -- Again
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2016, 11:09:04 AM »

Another thought is that if going to Winston-Salem didn't bother you, continue on I-74 to Rockingham, then pick up NC/SC 38 to I-95.

Avoids Charlotte and Columbia entirely, though does give more potential I-95 shenanigans.
We're heading back north although I've not decided what day yet. I would seem that Friday or Monday would be busy with New Year's Day and post-Christmas traffic, so I expect 95 could be a zoo. Otherwise I would give that route a shot.

Quote
An alternative to the Fall Line is to stay on US 1 to Callahan FL to pick up US 301.  Much of US 1 in Georgia is now 4-lane, though I'm not sure it has much in the way of 65 mph speed limits.

US 25 south of Augusta is open 4-lane for a very long way as well...

Also US 129 has a fair amount of 4-lane between Macon and Athens so one could use I-85 to US 441 to Athens...

We did the 129/221/1 route last year (in the dark due to a late start and traffic jams on 75) and while more direct it wasn't anything great. There are enough towns along the way without bypasses that slowed the travel.

Quote
If you are trying to do the entire thing in one day without spending the night (we always spend the night somewhere when going to FL directly from Fredericksburg), these alternatives might be tough...you'd be exchanging aggravation for an extra hour or two on the road...

Augusta going north and Macon (via the Fall Line) were reasonable stopping points on past trips but traveling with two well-behaved cocker spaniels adds a wrinkle to the trip.

Bruce in Blacksburg
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