When to leave to beat the worst July 4 traffic

WASHINGTON – With July 4 falling on a Tuesday this year, regional transportation leaders expect traffic backups to stretch up to six days, with some of the worst long-distance traffic to come on Saturday and Sunday, with additional backups right after fireworks end.

In Maryland, heavy traffic is on the Bay Bridge is expected from Thursday, June 29, through Tuesday, July 4.

To avoid the worst traffic at the Bay Bridge, the Maryland Transportation Authority recommends drivers headed to the Eastern Shore leave:

  • Thursday, June 29: Before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Friday, June 30: Before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 1: Before 6 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
  • Sunday, July 2: Before 8 a.m. and after 7 p.m.
  • Monday, July 3: Before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 4: Before 9 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Even those off hours can still see significant backups on highways across the region as other travelers also have similar ideas about avoiding the typically busiest times.

“If folks take off Friday, they can almost stay a whole week….so I would expect traffic volumes, you’ll start to see them increase on the major routes to head out of town probably Thursday, into Friday definitely, and then over the weekend, so be extra cautious out there,” said Charlie Gischlar, with the Maryland State Highway Administration.

For the last few years, WTOP traffic reporters have noted changes in the travel trends on many long holiday weekends that make it harder to predict the exact times when traffic will be worst.

“As everybody resolves not to make the same travel mistake they did last year, we run the risk that everybody may make a new mistake all at the same time,” WTOP traffic guru Bob Marbourg said ahead of Memorial Day travel.

Extra roadside assistance crews will be available to attempt to clear any incidents as quickly as possible, but just one crash or thunderstorm can lead to even longer delays. More than a million people across the Washington area are expected to travel 50 miles or more this weekend, with additional traffic from people just passing through.

In Virginia, the state Department of Transportation’s model of expected weekend traffic shows typical significant Saturday-morning backups on Interstate 95 south from Dumfries through Fredericksburg. The Saturday delays are expected to be worst between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Northbound delays on Saturday are expected to be most significant in the early afternoon.

On Sunday, significant traffic is expected in both directions on I-95 between about 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., with the potential for major northbound backups north from Spotsylvania continuing all night long.

On Tuesday, the worst interstate backups in Virginia are projected to be after fireworks end around 9:30 p.m. The model, based on the past three July 4 holidays, projects backups on I-395 and I-66 leaving Washington until about 11:30 p.m. VDOT does plan to adjust traffic signal timing on major roads on July 4 to help get drivers in towards D.C. before the fireworks and back out afterward.

HOV restrictions do not apply on July 4 for regular HOV lanes, but the rules always apply in the HOV or toll 95 and 495 Express Lanes. The 95 Express Lanes will operate on their normal schedule, except on July 4 itself. On Independence Day, the 95 Express Lanes will point northbound until about 7 p.m. and open southbound by about 9 p.m.

Virginia Beach/Outer Banks travel

VDOT recommends leaving extra time for any trips to the Virginia Beach area due to construction on Interstate 64. VDOT is encouraging drivers to consider using Route 460 as an alternative.

In the Hampton Roads area, HOV restrictions are also lifted on July 4 but apply at all other times this weekend. 

Don’t get stuck

“There’s one big thing that people need to do, and that is to check your car,” Gischlar said.

Quickly checking for tire pressure and any other issues could prevent a breakdown on the side of a hot, busy highway.

“A small little repair before you hit the road can literally keep you on the road,” Gischlar said.

Scheduled events, road closures around the Mall
Getting around on July 4
Best area events
Ways to stay safe with fireworks
More Fourth of July News

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