The big exodus is on. With each passing day, the Thanksgiving holiday-related traffic back-ups and traffic delays will become progressively worse along freeways and major corridors across the Washington metropolitan area. Then there is the spill-over effect, as mind-numbing gridlock is visited upon “all types of roadways across the metro area, such as arterial roads, highways and city streets,” details INRIX, a global transportation analytics company. The worst of the worst travel delays on area freeways is yet to come, warns AAA in collaboration with INRIX.
That dubious distinction both becomes and befalls Thanksgiving Eve. That is to be expected as nearly 1.35 million people depart the area for the holiday. Here is the thing, of that tally, 1,221,000 Washington metro residents are expected to travel to their Thanksgiving holiday destinations by automobiles. This represents an increase of 2.1% from the 1,195,500 area residents who traveled by automobile over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2018. Thanksgiving also means “crowded airports and bus and train stations.”
“Over 3.6 million persons residing in Virginia, Maryland and the Washington metro area will embark on Thanksgiving road trips,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “As a result, holiday travelers exiting the area and those staying put for the holiday, will encounter heavier traffic congestion, as well as travel delays that are almost three times longer than the normal delays – if there is such a thing around here – during the afternoon rush hours on any given Wednesday.”
The Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving are the worst days and times to travel. Traffic delays will treble on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day on freeways across the national capital area, warn AAA and INRIX, a traffic research firm. Commuters caught up in the mix on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway around 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve will have hell to pay. They will experience and encounter travel peaks nearly 500 percent longer than normal delays on that stretch of roadway, INRIX is projecting.
That is almost unfathomable. Perhaps the pain will be less palpable along the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway, starting at 4:45 p.m. on Thanksgiving Wednesday. But that is only a matter of perspective, as travel delays increase a staggering 225%. But we are only kidding ourselves. Just keep in mind, around 251,340 vehicles traverse some segments of the Outer Loop day after day. “But once local Thanksgiving holiday travelers escape the ‘gravitational pull’ of the Washington metro area, they will encounter gridlock in every major metro area along their paths,” Townsend explained.” In some cases, trips through some major cities will be as much at four times longer than the normal commute in the workaday world.”
Backups and bottlenecks will crop up along I-95 South on Thanksgiving Eve beginning at 3:30 p.m. as holiday travelers and local commuters encounter travel delays 224% longer than normal. That compares to delays that swell to only 111% longer than normal on I-95 north beginning at 3:30 Wednesday afternoon. It is proof that Thanksgiving week is among the “busiest long-distance travel periods of the year.”
The picture won’t be pretty along I-270 in either direction on the day before Thanksgiving. Expect absolute gridlock Wednesday afternoon from Maryland 190 to the Interstate 270 Spur to points west. Segments of I-270 racked up traffic counts of 265,633 vehicles on any given day of the year during 2018. Come Wednesday afternoon, travel delays will increase 205% on I-270 North, starting at 4:15 p.m. Holiday travelers are encouraged to travel during off-peak times – early morning and/or later in the evening. But the morning holiday getaway traffic will peak 122% on I-270 South, beginning as early as 6:15 a.m.
The accelerated, around-the-clock pace of work along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge rehabilitation project will continue unabated through Thanksgiving week, forewarns the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA). Motorists along U.S. 50 Eastbound will experience a 93% increase in travel delays, as highway speeds drop along the roadway to a snail’s pace all the way up to the Easton Municipal Airport. Day-trippers on westbound U.S. 50 will see heavy traffic starting at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, as travel delays increase as much as 53% over normal delays on the stretch of roadway from the Easton Municipal Airport to the periphery of the Bay Bridge. It is a reminder that “Thanksgiving Day is a more heavily traveled day than Wednesday,” explains the United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).
Holiday travelers and daily commuters will cross paths throughout the busy travel week. For example, trekkers and local holidaymakers alike can expect peak congestion on Tuesday along I-95 and I-66 in Northern Virginia from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., based on traffic data at the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Heavy congestion and traffic delays will crop up from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday on I-66 west between I-495 and Route 234/Prince William Parkway, warns VDOT.
Heavy congestion will rear its ugly head Wednesday, on I-95 north between Richmond and Fredericksburg from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The same is true that day on I-66 west between I-495 and Route 234/Prince William Parkway from 1 to 5 p.m., warns VDOT. The misery continues on Thanksgiving Day too as travelers try to beat the crowds to the Thanksgiving table from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. along I-95 south around Fredericksburg, VDOT notes. Black Friday will present traffic challenges. Black Friday traffic congestion will manifest itself from noon to 6:30 p.m. on I-95 north in Northern Virginia, according to VDOT.
Thanksgiving Wednesday is typically a heavily congested travel day due, in part, to the fact that some parents with children in school can’t hit the roads until the Thanksgiving break begins or ‘early release day for students’ occurs. It all started as early as yesterday, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The pattern repeats itself, during the afternoon rush hours of Monday, which is normally considered “the best day to drive in most major cities,” and then on Tuesday afternoon, and with a vengeance on Wednesday afternoon, especially between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Here is the upshot: avoid afternoon and early evening travel the Wednesday before Thanksgiving; same for the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Winter weather is a wild card.