Memorial Day weekend traffic: Advice on planning your return

WTOP's Dave Dildine on returning Memorial Day traffic

WASHINGTON — Half the difficulty for travelers this Memorial Day weekend was getting out of the D.C. area. The other half, of course, will be getting back home after the holiday.

Concern over congestion on the roadways even had Jim Ports, deputy secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation, warning people about road rage.

But will the return trip really be that bad, and is there anything can you do to make the ride less potentially painful?

“Delays on Route 50 can be intense and long-lived,” said WTOP traffic expert Dave Dildine. “In recent years we’ve seen volume delays after holidays persist well past midnight.”

If that wasn’t enough to make you cringe, it’s not unheard of for home-bound traffic on the Eastern Shore toward the Bay Bridge to be jammed from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning. The Maryland Department of Transportation says the best time to reach the Bay Bridge on Memorial Day is before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Weather is another obvious worry.

“The magnitude and longevity of the comeback traffic hinges quite a bit on the weather and forecast,” Dildine explained. “If it’s raining at the beaches, people check out early and head out sooner. If it’s a nice day, people stay and the comeback is more staggered but longer-lived.”

Another issue: Not all travelers went to the beach. Some went west into the mountains.

“And what goes west must come east,” Dildine said. “I-70 and I-270, east and south, that’s usually a late-volume delay that forms on those routes toward Montgomery County through Frederick.”

As for why Interstate 270 south doesn’t start to slow until later in the evening, Dildine said it’s because people coming from the Ohio Valley simply don’t get there as early as some others. It takes them longer to get to the final leg of their trip.

“So that’s a late volume delay to form,” he said, “and it’s a hallmark of comeback traffic at the end of a holiday weekend. Much like I-95 Northbound congestion between Fredericksburg and Aquia.”

Congestion on Interstate 95 north in Fredericksburg, Route 50 west to the Bay Bridge, I-270 south in Frederick are all typical of returning holiday travel for the region.

“But there’s no good way to pinpoint exactly how intense these delays are going to be and how long they persist,” Dildine warned.

Buckle up, road warriors.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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