‘Absolute gridlock nightmare’ predicted for DC-area drivers returning over July 4 weekend

Cheap gas prices, American wanderlust, optimism about the economy and a long holiday weekend combine to make what could be an “absolute gridlock nightmare” in the D.C. area, according to a AAA spokesman.

However, the worst time to be on the road will be during the trek home.

“Remember the Fourth of July this year is on Thursday, so most people would take off on Friday also,” making it a long weekend, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said.

People may leave the area at different times during the holiday, but for the most part return on Sunday, July 7. And that’s when, “We’re going to see the worst congestion … Everyone who has gone out of town will try to come back to the same area, on the same roadways, between 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.,” Townsend said.

On July 7, these returning holidaymakers will share the roads with drivers who stayed in town going about their weekend activities and with through-drivers passing the area up and down on Interstate 95.

“We are going to be co-mingling and co-mixing; it’s going to be an absolute gridlock nightmare,” Townsend said.

But the delays will start July 3 before peaking on July 7. Here are roadways where you could see some heavy traffic:

  • Interstate 270 North – July 3, 9:25 a.m., 19-minute delay
  • Capital Beltway (counterclockwise) – July 3, 10:45 a.m., 36-minute delay
  • Capital Beltway (clockwise) – July 5, 1 p.m., 18-minute delay
  • U.S. 50 East – July 6, 11:15 a.m., 21-minute delay
  • I-95 North – July 7, 9 a.m., 41-minute delay
  • I-95 South – July 7, 10 a.m., 23-minute delay
  • U.S. 50 West – July 7, 12:30 p.m., 26-minute delay

If you’re taking to the air instead of hitting the road, finding alternate ways to get to the airport and getting there early are key to avoiding traffic hassle.

“You’re going to see congestion to and from the area of three major airports, and that’s especially true for people flying and traveling out at (Reagan National Airport),” Townsend said.

Six Blue and Yellow Line stations south of Reagan National are closed until Sept. 8 for platform repairs and other upgrades.

Townsend said the best advice to navigating Fourth of July traffic is to travel off-peak; however, there’s a problem with that: No matter what time you pick, your next-door neighbor, the guy sitting in the car next to you, or sitting in the airline seat next to you, will pick the same time.

With 1.2 million people D.C. area travelers — about a 4% increase from last year’s 1.17 million — and a total of 3.5 million traveling throughout D.C., Maryland and Virginia, it’s the highest July 4 travel volume in the D.C. area since AAA began tracking the data.

AAA said that the cheap price of gas is one reason many people are traveling by cars.

Another reason is that Americans are in a travel mood.

“They have this pent-up desire to travel, call it wanderlust, if you will. They simply want to get away for the holiday,” Townsend said.

And, if the price of gasoline remains low for the summer travel season, Townsend said people will probably take more than one trip this summer.

It’s not just local travel that is breaking travel records. AAA said that nationally, almost 50 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home for July 4.

“Both are record-breaking and record shattering numbers,” Townsend said.

Here is AAA Mid-Atlantic’s July 4 travel projection:


  • 1,217,000 D.C. area travelers
  • 1,059,000 D.C. area residents traveling by automobiles
  • 93,555 D.C. area residents traveling by air
  • 64,353 D.C. area residents traveling by other modes of transportation


  • 48.9 million total travelers
  • 41.4 million traveling by automobiles
  • 3.96 million traveling by air
  • 3.53 million traveling by other modes of transportation


Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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