What kind of traffic can you expect on the roads this Thanksgiving? A look ahead

More people are expected to hit the D.C. region’s roads to visit family for the Thanksgiving holiday compared to last year, when the pandemic hampered plans.

But what does that mean for finding the best time for your trip?

WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine said it’s ultimately a guessing game, but one possibility is ample traffic could build the weekend before Thanksgiving if people start their vacation early.

“Middays and afternoon rush hours late this week could be heavier, with more weeklong vacations that will shift more getaway traffic into late this week,” Dildine said.

He said it’s important to keep expectations low when it comes to getting anywhere fast between Thursday and the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, especially at certain hours.

“We’re entering a period in which daytime and evening hours will feature more traffic,” Dildine said.

Nearly 1.3 million D.C. region residents are expected to travel this Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA projections released Tuesday, which is up 13% from 2020 but still 9% lower than 2019.

So what time could be best?

“You need to time shift. Aim for a period overnight or early morning,” Dildine said.

He said it’s hard to predict, but if you think the holiday traffic isn’t going to start until next week, you might be surprised and should start looking ahead now.

“Jury’s still out. Nobody really knows, this is all kind of guessing. But basically, we’re entering a period in which daytime and evening hours will feature more traffic,” Dildine said.

And it’s not just traffic on the main roads that are the issue: Airports should also be on your radar.

“Backups at the airport drop-off zones this year might be a little longer with less transit use,” Dildine said.

“I think at Reagan National Airport, there’s a likelihood at certain times of the day where there are more departures leading up to a heavy departure period, and there are going to probably be long lines that start out in the George Washington Parkway.”


The Virginia Department of Transportation offered a more precise timeframe for when traffic is historically heavy during Thanksgiving week, according to its own data.

VDOT said that heavy congestion is expected between noon and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23. and moderate congestion throughout other times in the day.

Heavy congestion is also expected on Wednesday, Nov. 24 and Sunday, Nov. 28 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. with moderate congestion outside of those windows. Drivers should anticipate moderate congestion between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27.

To help fight congestion, VDOT will suspend many highway work zones and lift most lane closures on interstates and other major roads starting at noon on Nov. 24 and going until Monday, Nov. 29.

All HOV lanes restrictions and rush hour tolls will be lifted for I-66 and I-64/I-264/I-564 HOV Diamond Lanes and 64 Express Lanes for Thursday, Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving Day) as well, per VDOT.

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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