Driving times expected to triple on day before Thanksgiving in DC area, nationwide

Motorists drive in the rain north on Interstate 270 out of D.C., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Rockville, Maryland, two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. (Courtesy AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

More drivers will be hitting the roads for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA forecasts, and the D.C. area will be no exception.

When you add together D.C., Maryland and Virginia, AAA Mid-Atlantic expects 4 million people to travel from the region this holiday.

“You’re going to have plenty of company,” John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, told WTOP.

In the D.C. area alone, 1,345,600 people will be traveling more than 50 miles from home for the holiday. Of those travelers, 1.2 million people will pack up the car and hit the road to get to grandma’s house.

“That means every roadway, and freeway, and exit ramp will be filled to capacity,” said Townsend.

And, in the D.C. area, there’s one time you absolutely do not want to be on the road.

Travel time on D.C.-area roads from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, the day before Thanksgiving, will be triple the usual time for that two-hour window on a Wednesday, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“That is saying a lot for a region that already suffers from the third-worst traffic congestion in the entire nation,” Townsend said in a Nov. 14 statement.


He said traffic will begin to increase on Monday of Thanksgiving week, and drivers can expect the most congestion “during the early evening commute period.”

Nationwide, AAA forecasts that more than 55 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday, an increase of almost 3% over 2018. This will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since AAA began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005.

“Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week,” Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in the statement.

Beyond record levels of travelers, Reed cited “persistent population growth” in the nation’s major metropolitan areas as a cause of the worsening traffic.

Though most travelers will be driving (49.3 million of the 55.24 million overall), air travel saw the greatest increase in volume, up 4.6% from last year.

AAA’s flight booking data from the last three years revealed that flying the Monday before Thanksgiving is the best option for travelers, with the lowest average ticket price ($486) before the holiday and lighter travel than later in the week. Travelers can also save by traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which has the week’s lowest average price per ticket ($454).

Despite gas prices currently being a little cheaper than the national average at the same time last year, AAA expects gas prices for most Americans to be fairly similar to last Thanksgiving, when prices averaged $2.57 a gallon.

But, if you’re renting a vehicle, you should expect to pay more than last year. This year’s are the highest prices for Thanksgiving car rentals on record since 1999, at $75 per day.

It’s predicted more than 368,000 motorists will call AAA for roadside assistance this Thanksgiving holiday, primarily due to dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

AAA advises drivers to make sure to get any necessary maintenance done before heading out on a road trip, and remember to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles at the roadside.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Vivian Medithi

Vivian Medithi is digital writer/editor. Vivian has been with WTOP since 2019.

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