I lived with my family in Virginia Beach for nearly seven years.  My husband also lived in Chesapeake for nearly a year, and we took turns driving between Maryland and Chesapeake to visit each other.  As a result, I know my way around Interstate 64 between Richmond’s I-295 and the Carolina border pretty darn well.  This time of year, the drive from D. C. south to Hampton Roads can be excruciating.  One accident can cause miles and miles of traffic problems.  The scenery is monotonous.  There aren’t any traffic reports on the radio.

And then there’s the infamous Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.  On a normal summer afternoon (that means between 10:00 A. M. and 2:00 P. M., not Friday, and definitely not a weekend), the delay at the tunnel crossing can be half an hour long.  Taking the Monitor-Merrimac Tunnel doesn’t always help, as you have to drive miles out of your way.

There are a few ways to minimize your stress on I-64.  They’re not foolproof, and there’s no way to avoid those tunnels, but these tips are definitely road-tested.  Here are some of my suggestions for I-64 driving:

Leave early.  This only makes sense.  First, it’s not hideously hot outside, and second, there won’t be as much traffic.  If you leave the D. C. area around 6:30 or 7:00 A. M., you’ll hit the tunnels at a low-volume time.

Don’t travel on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.  By noon on Fridays, both the D. C. roadways and I-64 in Hampton are clogged.  Things just get worse from there.  Saturdays during the summer are also high traffic days because Outer Banks beach house rentals begin and end on Saturdays.  If you must travel on Saturday, get up early and get to the beach while everyone else is still drinking lattes.

Bring an emergency kit and plenty of water.  Some days, your best laid plans aren’t enough.  You or someone else might need those jumper cables or bottles of Aquafina.  A map might come in handy, too.

Consider alternate routes.  We often drive down Maryland Route 301, cross the Nice Bridge, and head south on Virginia Route 17 through Gloucester.  You’ll pay some tolls and hit big traffic in Waldorf, Md., but the rest of the road is wide open.  Don’t speed, though.  Both highways are heavily speedtrapped.

You can also take I-295 south from Richmond around Petersburg, then take Virginia Route 460 in to Suffolk and the Hampton Roads area, but I’d save this route for emergencies only.  It takes a very long time to go that far west and south, then come east again.  However, if I-64 is closed by an accident, Route 460 is a decent alternative.  (Insider tip: Avoid I-95 through Richmond.  It’s another traffic nightmare these days.)

Plan ahead for peaceful family travel.  Bring spare batteries or car chargers for the portable DVD player and the Game Boys.  Pack a picnic unless you know where you’d like to eat; some of the “nearby fast food” off of I-295 and I-64 isn’t nearby at all, but several miles down the road.  Toss in a favorite pillow or stuffed animal if you’ll be driving during nap time.  Try to change diapers when you stop to eat, because there’s only one rest area on I-64 between I-295 and the Atlantic Ocean.

I hope VDOT widens I-64 some day, but I’m not holding my breath.  In the meantime, the best any of us can do is plan ahead, bring along some Gaelic Storm CDs, and think about the fun waiting at the end of the road.

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