WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, July 2, 2019) –An old and shopworn truism, perhaps coined in the world of sports, goes “records are meant to be broken.” As proof, the United States of America is celebrating its 243rd birthday, with record-breaking travel volumes and record-making traffic congestion levels, INRIX and AAA project. Before you go, factor in the worst days to travel and the worst times to avoid, as 48.9 million Americans, including 1.2 million Washington area residents, travel 50 miles or more during the long 4th of July Holiday weekend. For motorists caught up in the mix, the agony of it all multiplies starting, tomorrow, July 3, and it grows exponentially on Sunday, July 7, across the urban agglomeration that is the Washington metro area.
Travelers heading out Friday, July 5, and Saturday, July 6, are also in for a shock.
It all comes down to the time horizon. Holiday travelers hailing from the area will face absolute gridlock along key freeway segments starting tomorrow, July 3. Topping the list of the worst corridors for those departing Wednesday, July 3, is Interstate 270 northbound, where the travel delays will intensify and travel speeds drop to 36 miles per hour along the bottom section to the northern section and at the I-270 Spur, as early as 9:25 in the morning, according to INRIX.
Likewise, the pain intensifies at 10:45 Wednesday morning on the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway. Here, delays will increase a staggering 189 percent and average highway speeds will drop to a mere 20 mph during the holiday getaway on the eve of the 4th of July.
Some workers will punch the timeclock on the Fourth of July. For others, the Fourth is not a paid day off. Taking advantage of a long holiday weekend, some folks will clock out Friday around noon. Although the Friday morning commutes in the Washington metro area “are less congested than any other weekday” thanks to teleworking, the Friday afternoon commute is ranked the 9th worst in the nation.
On Friday afternoon, the 5th of July, the normal commute time on the Capital Beltway’s Inner Loop will elongate 86 percent, starting at 1 P.M. Travelers will spend an additional 18 minutes mired in gridlock at 24 mph. Yet “58 percent of business professionals will take at least one day off during the 4th of July week.”
Tag, looks like Friday is it.
Oddly enough, Saturday, July 6 at 11:15 A.M, is the worst day and time to traverse U.S. 50 East from Washington, D.C. to Ocean City and the Delaware beaches, at a creepy-crawly 37 mph. During peak season, weekly vacation home and condo rentals run Saturday to Saturday. Check-in time is Saturday at 3 P.M.
The doomsday scenario will manifest itself on the return trip, Sunday, July 7, from 10:30 A.M. until 12:30 P.M., the very hours churchgoers are out and about. This fate befalls road-trippers on northbound I-95, unfolding at 9 A.M. Sunday, as delays swell 135%, and speeds dip to 28 mph. The worst case scenario leapfrogs to southbound I-95, starting at 10 A.M., with average speeds tumbling to 39 mph.
If misery loves company, the residue will have plenty of it, after lunch Sunday, 12:30 P.M., on westbound US 50, radiating from the Easton Airport to the western shore. Like “Sunday drivers,” they will slowpoke home at 31 mph.
“During their departures for the holiday tomorrow afternoon, highway travelers will be shoe-horned into traffic bottlenecks and temporal tie-ups on major arteries and constricted by queuing along on-ramps and off-ramps,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs.
“Like hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, and other migratory species finding their way home in synchrony on skyways and pathways in due season after crisscrossing the globe, it seems everyone will be flocking home in-sync at the same time. Whether they are returning over the same route or by a different route Sunday, they will be plagued by traffic hyper-congestion at lower speeds on freeway segments over an extended period.”
That is to be expected, because in the cosmic scheme of things a grand total of 3,598,000 persons living in Virginia, Maryland and the Metropolitan Washington area are traveling 50 miles or more from home for the holiday. That tally includes 3,130,700 persons in the three jurisdictions who are hitting the highways for their holiday getaways and get-togethers.
The aggregation amassing on area freeways and along the polar coordinates of the Capital Beltway includes over a million holiday road-trippers and day-trippers from their home base in the Greater Washington area. Being so many, their paths will intersect, crisscross, and overlap.
For the 41.4 million Americans traveling by automobile this Independence Day, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Wednesday, July 3 as commuters mix with holiday travelers. In major metros, drivers could face delays as much as four times a normal commute. Nationwide, delays are expected to increase by approximately 9 percent.
“With record-level travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays around our major metros,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times are expected to nominally increase throughout the week, hands down, Wednesday afternoon will be the worst time to be on the road.”
“Heavy traffic volumes will occur on the Bay Bridge, starting Wednesday, July 3, through Sunday, July 7,” the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) warns. You will have plenty of company on the approach roadways, the Severn River Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Kent Narrows Bridge, along the 50/301 split on the Eastern Shore.
Shore-bound holiday travelers can expect long backups, which can stretch several miles, on US 50/301 while approaching the Bay Bridge toll plaza, and its 11 toll lanes, then to the Easton Airport.
“Based on the traffic data, periods of moderate to heavy congestion is likely to occur between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 6, and Sunday, July 7,” warns the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). If history is a reliable guide, heavy congestion is also present during the late evening hours on the 4th of July itself on Interstate 66 East, and on I-95 near the Fredericksburg region. Interstate 95 is the primary north-south transportation corridor on the Eastern Seaboard, and accounts for 21% of the nation’s lane miles.
Nightmare scenarios will unfold on the freeways all around Washington, D.C., the “19th most congested city in the world,” says INRIX. Ours is also the second most congested metropolitan area in the nation. The contagion will be visited upon the Inner and Outer Loops of the Capital Beltway, the I-95 Corridor, northbound I-270, and on US 50 in both directions.
Here is a word to the wise: “travel off-peak.”
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 59 million members nationwide and nearly 80,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.