Memorial Day travel begins

Chesapeake Bay Bridge on a Sunny Day, View looking to the East from a Boat Under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge between the Spans, near Annapolis, Maryland, Sailing Capital of the World(Getty Images/iStockphoto/coastalpics)

It’s the first major holiday since restrictions for the coronavirus were eased in the D.C. area. And with many vacations put on hold due to the pandemic last year, this Memorial Day weekend is expected to be a busy one.

AAA is projecting about 2.8 million people in the D.C. area will travel more than 50 miles this Memorial Day, which is about a 60% increase from last year. It expects nine out of 10 of these travelers to travel by car.

Potentially affecting travel conditions as the holiday weekend kicks off is heavy rain Friday afternoon.

More Memorial Day news:

Bay Bridge traffic

Those traveling by car earlier Friday may have sat through some heavy traffic, when two-way traffic operations were discontinued around 2:30 p.m. Two-way traffic has resumed as of 6 p.m. and traffic is flowing on the bridge.

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, the best off-peak times to travel the Bay Bridge over the holiday weekend will be:

  • Friday, May 28 — after 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 29 — before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 30 — before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
  • Memorial Day Monday, May 31 — before 8 a.m. and after 11 p.m.

If you missed it last year, there are no toll booths greeting you before the bridge.

Cashless tolling is now permanent throughout the state, meaning drivers don’t stop at toll booths anymore. Instead, tolls are collected through E-ZPass.

Jim Ports, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said there’s a new option for drivers to try “Pay-By-Plate.” 

“With Pay-By-Plate, tolls are automatically billed to the driver’s registered credit card as they use the Maryland toll facilities with no transponder or prepaid toll deposit,” Ports said.

He said that on the way back from the shore, drivers should leave early or stay late to miss the most traffic.

State safety leaders said they are especially concerned about travel on the roads this holiday weekend because driving trends over the past year have been concerning.

Some drivers have taken advantage of the decreased volume on the roads to speed and drive more recklessly, according to officials.

Even with fewer drivers on the roads in 2020, 571 people died on Maryland roadways, and troopers have stopped 2,700 impaired drivers — that’s up 700 from the year before.

Traveling by air 

Some vacationers will only drive as far as the airport this holiday weekend.

On Friday morning, excited travelers at Dulles International Airport stopped to put on masks, before entering the terminal. The Transportation Security Administration extended the mask mandate through Sept. 13.

Masks must be worn in airports and on airplanes, except while eating and drinking, according to the TSA. They must also be worn on any public transportation that takes you to the airport.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from the airport Friday morning and noticed most passengers began the process by wheeling luggage to the self-service kiosks in front of each airline’s ticket counters.

Many people were dressed in shorts and sneakers — clearly looking forward to beginning a few days of relaxation.

Last weekend was the highest number of passengers screened since the coronavirus pandemic began. The TSA said it is encouraging travelers to leave extra time to get through what are expected to be long security lines.

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said volume at BWI is expected to be high.

“Traffic at BWI Marshall Airport this weekend, much like our roadside traffic could be around 75% of a normal Memorial Day travel weekend,” Slater said.

On the water

Storms expected over the next few days could impact those traveling by boat as the holiday weekend typically brings out boaters across the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding areas.

It’s National Safe Boating Week and Col. Adrian Baker with the Maryland Natural Resources Police is urging those on the water to be cautious.

“Please wear your lifejacket. You’re required by law to have a lifejacket for every person that’s on board the boat so make sure that you have that before you go out,” Baker said.

Boat sales have increased during the pandemic and Baker said there could be a lot of inexperienced boaters on the water this Memorial Day weekend.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein, John Domen and Kyle Cooper contributed to this report.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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