This report is from the return trip to Virginia from Syracuse, via a SWPA meet outside Pittsburgh, on December 27, 2003.

Return trip to Virginia, via Pittsburgh (very long)

Saturday the 27th was a long day for me, having to drive back from Liverpool, NY to Virginia Beach here, but doing it by way of the Cranberry, PA meet.

Left Liverpool around 6am, taking the usual Henry Clay Blvd-Old Liverpool Rd route to I-81 south. Didn't pass another car until I was south of I-481, at which point traffic slowly started coming out. Overall trip was uneventful on the way south, though I do get a kick out of the "Endless Mountains Region Next 6 Exits" signs between Binghamton and Scranton.

For a change of pace, I opted to take the US 11 Scranton Expressway. The exit ramp from SB I-81 has a stop sign at the access ramp to the expressway, but traffic was fairly calm, so making the turn wasn't a problem. An odd interchange where Roosevelt Hwy hits the expressway.

The expressway itself seems of an older design...almost no left shoulder...but looks like it was reconstructed relatively recently. Pavement wasn't too bad, and instead of a steel guardrail median there was a taller-than-normal concrete median. The expressway dumps one out in downtown Scranton. About 6 blocks and 2 turns later, one can turn onto the Central Scranton Expressway to get to I-81...this one looks VERY median in some places...crosses under an old bridge...but oddly has a 55 MPH speed limit (but a tight 25 MPH curve on the entrance ramp to SB I-81).

Back on I-81 and heading south...took it down to I-80. Enroute, there's a fairly lengthy truck climbing lane (not to mention halfways-decent concrete pavement) climbing the ridge south of Wilkes-Barre.

Took I-80 across the Susquehanna River and at the I-180/PA 147 and US 15 interchanges is well wrapped up, but I'm disappointed. At the two interchanges, both cloverleafs, PennDOT added what I'd call "C/D Lanes" to I-80. Functions similar to a C/D road, but is not a separate roadway...they're separated from the main lanes by only a double-white-line painted 12 inches. I-80 has auxiliary lanes between the two interchanges, across the Susquehanna. The new bridges also have full shoulders, which IIRC is an improvement.

Dropped off of I-80 at PA 26...which I noticed has US 220 duplexed with it now (it wasn't my last time through, a couple years back). The freeway starts about 3/4 mile or so south of I-80 (what's the timeframe for doing the I-80 interchange?), and continues well on in. Noticed exit numbers along PA 26, particularily the new section. The interchange with PA 150 is a 7-ramp par-clo (why not make it a full 8?). At US 322, things were constructed where US 220/Future I-99 is the "through route". WB US 322 merges in from the right. All throughout, 55 MPH...rather annoying.

Just east of "Grays Woods", US 220/322 exits onto a future off-ramp, and follows what will be a C/D road connecting to Grays Woods. At this point, it reverts to the old route, with construction VERY EVIDENT in the area. Lots of ongoing construction from this point southwest, including at least three bridges (two of them fairly high and long).

Settled into a long drive along US 220 down to Bald Eagle. Nothing out of the ordinary here except that there's no construction apparent at the Bald Eagle interchange. Once on I-99, headed south. Noticed some VMSes installed in the Altoona area, but not in use.

Exited onto US 22 west, which is freeway for a ways west of Altoona. The first interchange west of I-99, where US 22 switches from PA 764 to the freeway, is a double-trumpet. Further west, there is a fairly long uphill climb up to Tunnel Hill, but thankfully with a truck climbing lane. At the top of the hill are signs warning of strong crosswinds. The freeway ends on the edge of Ebensburg, becoming a 45 MPH expressway. There are 2 stoplights (IIRC...could be 3) between the end of the freeway and the cloverleaf at US 219.

Took US 219 north briefly to catch US 422 west and catch the last 3 counties I needed in Pennsylvania (Cambria, Indiana, Armstrong). US 422 is a somewhat narrow 2-lane road with lots of ups and downs...sometimes with a truck climbing lane...sometimes not. Fairly slow going overall until one gets to Penn Run. At that point, US 422 opens up into a 4-lane, 65 MPH freeway bypass of Indiana.  One makes good time for the next 10 miles or so until the freeway ends west of Indiana and the road reverts back to 2-lanes. The slow-going continues until one gets to Kitanning, where US 422 joins the PA 28 freeway.

After crossing the Allegheny, I opted for PA 28, which "exits onto itself" at a trumpet. PA 28 is a 65 MPH freeway at this point, and also has exit numbers, sequentially numbered. I exited at "Exit 17", which is at PA 356. Took PA 356 briefly to PA 228, which has a lot of turns, has a short duplex with PA 8 (which is 5 lanes undivided), bypasses Mars, and eventually brings one to Cranberry.  Lots of traffic on PA 228 between I-79 and US 19, though I'm told it's a lot less than it was before the Cranberry Connector opened.

Enjoyed myself at the SWPA Meet...meeting many for the first time (including Jeff Kitsko and Tim Reichard), and catching Adam Prince for the third time in 2003...:o) After lunch, photos, and stories, I had to split from the rest of the group and the Meet, and make my way back to Norfolk.

Got back out to I-79 and took that south. From my I-79 viewpoint, the Cranberry Connector looks like not much more than a trumpet supported by C/D roads, though I suspect it's a bit more than that. From I-79, took I-279 south into Pittsburgh. Noticed that I-279 picks up a reversible HOV lane at US 19, but doesn't pick up a 3rd lane each way until south of there. The third lane splits off at I-579 south, which I also took. Wove my way down and through the two stoplights to get to the Liberty Tunnel. Didn't realize the Liberty Tunnel was that long. After coming out the other end, I passed through the Liberty Ave/PA 51 SPUI before taking the loop to SB PA 51.

PA 51 is a long, slow, busy drive down to the start of PA 43. Too much traffic...too narrow of a road, and too many stoplights. I did find the old-style cloverleaf at what I believe was the "Yellow Belt" interesting. A traffic mess for those trying to get onto PA 51, though.

Eventually got down to PA 43 to try out that addition to the PA TPK system.  Besides the two toll booths, didn't look like much more than a rural freeway, and had very little traffic. Only passed a handful of cars before I got to US 40.

Took US 40 east. Noticed the long narrow bridges over the Monongahala, the interesting cross section through Brownsville, and the half-interchange just east of Brownsville, where US 40 exits off of itself and returns to the old road. Speaking of the old road, it was slow going all the way to Uniontown.  Too much traffic to pass, and too few passing opportunities to begin with.  Also, IIRC, most of the path was signed no higher than 45 MPH.

Took the Uniontown bypass, starting on US 119 and continuing onto US 40 East.  At the east end of Uniontown, US 40 switches from freeway to a Jersey-barriered expressway heading up the hill east of town. Lots of curves on this portion, but it at last had two lanes each way until past the top of the hill, before it went back to 2 lanes total. From this point on, US 40 pretty much stayed two lanes, except for having the occasional truck-climbing lane. Noticeable difference at the PA/MD state line...US 40 seemed to magically grow shoulders...:o)

The I-68/US 40/US 219 interchange at Keysers Ridge is a 6-ramp par-clo, with loops onto each direction of I-68. At this point, it was close to dark, and I needed to make time good, so I took I-68 all the way east. At Hancock, I opted for US 522 south to Wichester, though in retrospect I probably should've taken I-70/I-81. US 522 was moving, but going 55 MPH vice 65 MPH wasn't the greatest.  US 522 was also fairly slow going through Berkeley Springs. Once at the WV/VA line, it opens up to 4 lanes, which helped. Stopped at a gas station (forget the name) a couple miles past the state line and gassed up for 1.359 a gallon.

Opted to take VA 37 around the north end of Winchester to I-81. Was impressed to see VA 37 signed at 65 MPH until its end at US 11. Was on I-81 briefly, opting to take US 17/50 east. Cut the corner a little better than taking I-81/I-66. At Paris, I continued on US 17 south.

This section surprised me. Almost the whole distance from Paris to I-66 looked like it had recently been reconstructed, or at least resurfaced. Was in very good condition, but was ONLY SIGNED 45 MPH! There was only one location where I could conceivably see a 45 MPH speed limit, that being at the RR crossing about a mile north of I-66 (the crossing was pretty rough). Aside from that crossing, why did VDOT only sign this road at 45 MPH?

Once past that frustration, I followed the I-66/US 17 duplex, then continued south on US 17 to Warrenton. Glad to see no stoplights on US 17 between I-66 and the Warrenton bypass...traffic was a bit heavy. Further south, traffic is thick enough on the US 15/17/29 triplex between the bypass and Opal to where it warrants a freeway. A bit of a wait at the stoplight to turn left to continue on US 17 south as well.

Aside from the occasional annoying stoplight along US 17, I made good time to Fredericksburg, where I picked up I-95. Took I-95 to I-295 to I-64 east.  Nothing really new until I got to Newport News.

First thing I noticed is that at Bland Blvd, where I-64 goes from 4 lanes to 8 lanes, the speed limit only drops to 60 MPH, where 7 months ago it dropped to 55. The 60 MPH speed limit continues along the 8 lane section of I-64 through Newport News...this was a pleasant surprise. Second change I noticed is related to the "Coliseum Central" project, the widening of I-64 between the Hampton Roads Center Parkway (HRCP) and I-664. The EB HOV lane, which used to extend to HRCP, now ends just south of US 17. Then the 3rd lane, which used to end near Magruder Blvd, now ends at the Big Bethel Rd overpass, just north of HRCP. So the lane reductions are much sooner now. The final change is that EB traffic is now traveling what will be the future inside lanes, with 2 lanes open, while the existing lanes get torn up and rebuilt. Couldn't tell, but I'm presuming the same is the case going westbound. Also, because of the dark, I couldn't tell what the status of the Mercury Blvd interchange upgrade is, though I did see that almost all the overhead BGS going eastbound are now up.

Last leg of the trip, through HRBT and on to US 13/Northampton Blvd, was uneventful. Got home around 10:30pm.

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