Best and worst travel times around the DC area this Memorial Day weekend

Thousands of D.C.-area residents will be setting out to enjoy the blue sky and green wilderness this Memorial Day weekend, but first they just might be seeing red on the roads.

Nationwide, an estimated 42.3 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this Memorial Day weekend. That’ll be an increase of 2.7 million people from last year for what AAA is projecting to be the third-most traveled Memorial Day weekend since 2000.

The vast majority are expected to be traveling by car — more than last year and just shy of pre-pandemic numbers, according to AAA’s estimation.

Best, worst times to leave

More than 1 million of those 42.3 million travelers are expected to be D.C. metro-area residents. Overall, AAA forecasts more than 900,000 D.C.-area residents will travel by land; 85,000 by air.

“The best time to leave is the most inconvenient time to leave — say 2 a.m.,” said Dave Dildine in the WTOP Traffic Center. “But you don’t need to ruin your circadian rhythm at the beginning of your vacation to dodge the worst of traffic.”

One thing drivers have going for them is the dry forecast going into the weekend. Another is flexible work leave policies.

“Since the pandemic, we hadn’t had a terrible getaway on Route 50. There were a few days in the teens during which travelers spent four or five hours in horrendous backups, but nothing like that has materialized since,” Dildine said. “Armed with leave, drivers take off earlier. Some likely departed last weekend. The getaway is more staggered.”

INRIX, a transportation data and insights provider, expects Friday, May 26 to be the busiest day on the roads nationwide, including in the D.C. region. Friday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. will be particularly bad. Motorists will have smoother sailing for morning journeys or evening trips after 6 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday are expected to have lighter traffic and fewer delays across the board.

The most congestion to kick off the weekend will be on US-50 toward the beach on Friday at 1 p.m., turning a normally breezy two-and-a-half hour drive to Rehoboth into an almost four-hour trudge.

Interstate 95 northbound between Williamsburg, Virginia, and D.C. is expected to be the worst congestion in the area to cap off the weekend, with an excess of brake lights on Monday at 5 p.m.

What to watch for in Maryland

More than 325,000 vehicles are projected to cross the Bay Bridge between Friday and Monday, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

MDTA is advising Bay Bridge voyagers to generally plan to cross the bay before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m. throughout the weekend. That travel window opens up a bit on Saturday afternoon, with the best time to travel beginning after 4 p.m. Sleep in Sunday and cross before 11 a.m., or after 5 p.m.

Here’s a quick rundown of the best times to travel across the Bay Bridge, courtesy of MDTA:

  • Thursday, May 25 – before 10 a.m. and after 9 p.m.
  • Friday, May 26 – before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 27 – before 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 28 – before 11 a.m. and after 5 p.m.
  • Memorial Day Monday, May 29 – before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

Depending on the weather and traffic conditions, two-way operations will be implemented to help alleviate delays.

MDTA says motorists should stay on US-50 on both sides of the bridge to keep local roadways open for first responders and residents. Those looking to avoid the Bay Bridge en route to the shore are encouraged to use I-95 north via the Tydings Bridge.

What to watch for in Virginia

Based on the historical data, the Virginia Department of Transportation expects heavy congestion on I-95 northbound between Fredericksburg and D.C. on Friday and Saturday. On Monday, expect I-95 northbound congestion between Richmond and Northern Virginia.

I-95 southbound congestion is expected between D.C. and Richmond on Friday and Saturday, then again on Sunday and Monday in Northern Virginia.

Congestion is likely around Hampton Roads, especially on Interstate 64 toward the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel eastbound on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and then going westbound on I-64 on Friday and Monday. Sporadic congestion may pop up Monday on Interstate 81 between Roanoke and Winchester.

In a news release, VDOT said it will be suspending most highway work zones (outside of semi-permanent work zones) and opening most closed lanes on major Virginia roadways beginning Friday at noon until Tuesday at noon. Travelers are encouraged to check VDOT’s Weekly Lane Closures and Travel Advisories for real-time updates.

Those passing through Virginia can also consult VDOT’s interactive travel trends map or download the 511 real-time traffic app to plan for the best travel times with the most green projections.

If flying seems more appealing to avoid traffic jams, you wouldn’t be alone. Nearly 3.4 million travelers are expected to fly this Memorial Day, which would top pre-pandemic levels of 2019 and would be the busiest Memorial Day Weekend for airports since 2005.

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David Andrews

No stranger to local news, David Andrews has contributed to DCist, Greater Greater Washington and was fellow at Washingtonian Magazine. He worked as a photo/videographer for University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

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