Ways to beat the traffic on Memorial Day weekend

Traffic backs up in the main lanes of Interstate 495 in Virginia late Thursday morning. Drivers have been slow to begin paying to use the 495 Express Lanes, which run adjacent to the main line. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

WASHINGTON — If you plan to hit the roads this Memorial Day weekend, you will have lots of company.

AAA says this could be the busiest weekend on the nation’s roads since 2005, with 36.1 million people expected to travel.

“The best time to leave is Wednesday,” says Jim Battagliese, director of traffic operations at WTOP.

If you plan to leave Thursday, you need to leave before the rush starts at 10 a.m. Otherwise, you should wait until the late evening hours.

Your last chance is Friday morning before 10 a.m. After that, Battagliese says, “you’re rolling the dice.”

Between the people leaving work to go home, the locals headed out on vacation and the travelers coming through the area along the Northeast corridor, it will be a mess.

Traffic will be at its worst from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday.

“95 south from the Beltway, and Springfield down to the Occoquan River on a normal Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, it’s at least a two-hour delay to get through that point,” Battagliese says.

The best rule to live by, he says, “If you can’t leave early, leave late.”

If you are headed to the beaches, U.S. 50 and Route 404 will be the busiest. One option, Battagliese says, is to use U.S 301 to cut through the area on the east side of D.C. if you’re trying to go south.

He says Route 29 is also a good alternate for Interstate 95.

But when it comes to the Eastern Shore, “we don’t have a whole lot of alternates to get across the bay,” Battagliese says.

When it comes to heading back to the D.C. area, Battagliese also has some tips that can save you time and frustration.

“If it’s a really nice day down at the beach, leave earlier,” he says. With people sticking around to enjoy the weather, the roads will be quieter.

On the flip side, if it’s raining, “stay later,” he says. When the weather gets rough, the masses leave early, which means you’ll have an easier commute if you leave at dinner time.

Either way, plan to be patient.

“It’s going to be a long struggle to get to the beaches or wherever you’re going this holiday weekend.”

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