Time-saving tips for Memorial Day travelers

WASHINGTON — Thursday is expected to be the busiest day for Memorial Day weekend travel in the D.C. metro area.

That prediction isn’t anecdotal. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board bases its prediction on data provided anonymously by travelers’ cellphones and navigation systems during the past five years.

“On Thursday, average travel speeds drop to around 32 or 33 miles an hour, which is 20 miles per hour lower than the normal 50- to 60-mile per hour speeds that we see when there’s no traffic,” says Council of Governments transportation planner Ben Hampton.

Because those numbers represent averages of all area highways, Hampton says changes of just a few miles per hour represent significant slowdowns on some roadways.

A snail’s pace

According to the Council of Government, the slowest pre-Memorial Day highway speeds can be expected:

  1. Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  2. Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  3. Friday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“Though Friday’s slowdowns aren’t as bad as Thursday, they start earlier in the day. So that’s something for people to be on the lookout for,” Hampton says.

For those hitting the road on Friday, he recommends leaving before 11 a.m.

Source: National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board

Bay Bridge planning

Many Memorial Day travelers head to area beaches by crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. A traffic advisory from the Maryland Transportation Authority suggests these off-peak times to cross the bridge:

  • Thursday — before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Friday — before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Saturday — before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
  • Sunday — before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Memorial Day Monday — before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Another interesting nugget from the COG Transportation Planning board traffic speed analysis: The Thursday before Memorial Day 2014 was the worst traffic day here of the entire year, followed by the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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