Travelers should brace for Thanksgiving getaway traffic

WASHINGTON — If you’re planning to commute or travel in the days ahead, set your expectations low. Thanksgiving getaway traffic is increasing and traffic patterns are changing.

WTOP Director of Traffic and Weather Jim Battagliese says the getaway for Thanksgiving has really changed over the last few years.

“It’s no longer the day before Thanksgiving. It’s really spread out,” Battagliese says.

Instead of one concentrated surge of travelers on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he says drivers have shifted their departures to several days in advance of the holiday weekend.

“You’re going to see a lot of people leaving this Friday through this weekend. You’re going to see a lot of heavy traffic on [Interstate] 95.”

The mix of commuter traffic and holiday getaway traffic is usually highest several days before Thanksgiving, although AAA Mid-Atlantic says this year fewer D.C. area residents will travel — 1, 115, 300, down from 1,157,100 in 2014.

One survey ranks the D.C. region as the second worst in the nation, in part due to this mix of travel types.

Data provided by the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination Program and the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory strongly support the notion that the holiday getaway peaks on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, not on Wednesday.

Interstate travel times on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday over the last several years were compared. Last year, the maximum calculated travel times for southbound traffic on I-95 in Virginia were higher on Tuesday during most times of the day.

The difference between the two days in 2013 was even more marked: Wednesday getaway drivers saw a 30 percent reduction in maximum travel times compared with those who left on Tuesday during peak congestion.

A similar trend was observed on Maryland interstates. On I-270 during peak congestion, it took northbound drivers about 112 minutes to travel between the Beltway and Frederick on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving last year, compared to just 56 minutes on Wednesday.

Battagliese urges getaway drivers on any route to have a backup plan, especially those who are driving during peak hours.

“The one thing I always say to people who are trying to get away for the holidays: make sure you have more than one way to go. Have at least two or three alternate routes.”

Also, drivers should pay close attention to the weather forecast since heavy rain increases the likelihood of traffic delays. Last year, a large storm system brought heavy rain and some wet snow to the region on the day before Thanksgiving making the traditionally slow commute even slower.

Mary DePompa

WTOP Traffic Reporter, Mary de Pompa has a great understanding of the D.C.-area gridlock, being a third-generation Washingtonian. If you see more than she says, call Mary on the WTOP Traffic Hotline at 202-895-5048 or email her at mdepompa@wtop.com.

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