Slick roads, heavy holiday traffic: Big backups leading to airports ahead of Thanksgiving

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Halloween has passed, but it looks like Thanksgiving is going to be the new nightmare — at least as far as getting around the D.C.-area is concerned.

Heavy rain all day Tuesday has slickened area roadways that are now packed with holiday travelers

“If you did venture out this evening, hopefully you did so with lowered expectations, especially on the Beltway and (Interstate) 95,” WTOP Traffic Reporter Dave Dildine said, adding that there were a lot of out-of-state plates contributing to the congestion.

Getting to the airport?

Roads leading to area airports are particularly hard-hit.

Very heavy traffic and long traffic backups have developed on roads near Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. By 5 p.m. on the George Washington Parkway, southbound traffic had backed up to Interstate 395 and delays were building.

One listener told WTOP that it took them 50 minutes to go one and a half miles.

“There is crazy back up. There is no good way to get to DCA. We left Ballston at 6:10 and made it to the our terminal around 7:15,” they said in an email.

“GW is backed up. And so is Route 1. We saw people getting out and walking the mile +. I called the non emergency police number to ask them to direct traffic.  They said they had been out a few times and were not going to send anyone again.”

Around Dulles, westbound traffic on the Dulles Access Road slowed near Route 28 as airport officials urged drivers to use the arrivals area even for drop-offs.

Airport travelers tend to rely more on cars rather than mass transit in the rain and with airport traffic surging ahead of the holiday, it’s a perfect storm for delays before you even get up to the terminal.

If you’re bold enough to venture out, do so with lowered expectations — you’ll be less disappointed when you inevitably hit the brakes.

Traffic is predictably heavy and slow on I-95 and the Capital Beltway. A crash involving a bus bottlenecked northbound traffic on I-395 near King Street for about an hour and, on rain-slicked roads, there have been several spin-out crashes as well.

When does the rain stop?

At the Bay Bridge, it’s been a long slog because there’s no two-way traffic. ‘In wind or rain, eastbound drivers lose a lane’ and today the loss of the reversible lane created a 10-mile-long eastbound backup on Route 50.

A soaking rain has been falling all day. The area has also seen some gusty winds.

Upwards of between 1 to 2 inches of rain can be expected, according to 7News First Alert Chief Meteorologist Veronica Johnson.

The rain is expected to stop gradually after midnight.

Thanksgiving travel Dulles Airport
Travelers line up at ticket counters at Dulles International Airport a day before the busiest travel day of the year. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Travel plans

Tens of millions are expected to drive for the Thanksgiving holiday, and that means intense gridlock will likely greet drivers as they hit the roads.

WTOP’s Steve Dresner said there are already delays at BWI-Marshall, ranging from 15 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes, but it’s otherwise smooth.

According to AAA, roughly 50 million Americans will get behind the wheel this week, an increase of nearly 2% compared to last year. More than 1.25 million people in the D.C. region will be hitting the roads over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, making it the second-highest number since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

The worst, most congested time to leave for Thanksgiving will be Wednesday, Nov. 22, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., AAA said. For drivers, the best bet to get around the worst of the traffic is to leave early in the morning or late at night.

“Leaving at an inconvenient time usually maximizes your odds of making good time,” WTOP Traffic reporter Dave Dildine said. “You’ll find the roads are nice and quiet.”

Carl, a commuter from New York City, spoke with WTOP about how he avoids the worst of the traffic: “(Leave) very early. People either still got to be at work, or sleeping. That’s the trick.”

With gas prices down and Thanksgiving travel expected to be up, WTOP's John Domen spoke to some already driving through Maryland.

Area airports experienced some delays.

For those who are flying out, the TSA’s recommendation is to arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

“We left three hours before our flight to get here,” one woman at Dulles International Airport told WTOP, on her way to Aruba with her fiancée.

WTOP's Neal Augenstein spoke with Dulles International Airport passengers traveling for the holiday.


Areas of moderate and heavy rain
Temps: 50s and rising
Winds: East 10-20 mph
First Alert Weather is on STORM ALERT for moderate to heavy evening rain. Combined with gusty winds, plan for slow across the region as holiday travel increases. The forecast calls for widespread rain totals of 1 to 2″, with higher amounts possible.

Moderate to heavy rain
Lingering showers after midnight
Temps: 50s
Winds: West 10-20+ mph
Pockets of moderate to heavy rain will draw to a close after midnight, leaving behind just a few lingering showers. Breezy will pick up and temperatures will warm into the night.

Turning mostly sunny. Windy
Highs: 50s
Winds: Northwest 15-20 mph, Gusts to 30 mph
Most shower activity should be gone by dawn, skies turn mostly sunny with gusty northwesterly winds.

Mostly sunny
Highs: 50s
Winds: Northwest 5-15 mph
Brilliant sunshine and highs in the 50s will make for easy holiday travel.

Mostly sunny
Highs: 50-55
Winds: Northwest 5-10 mph
The forecast stays dry for a busy holiday shopping day. Northwesterly winds with plenty of sun will make easy travel around the DMV.


WTOP’s Will Vitka, Dave Dildine, Neal Augenstein, John Domen, Nick Iannelli, Jessica Kronzer and Dana Sukontarak contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Ciara Wells

Ciara Wells is a freelance digital writer/editor at WTOP. She is a recent graduate of American University where she studied journalism and Spanish. Before joining WTOP, she was the opinion team editor at a student publication and a content specialist at an HBCU in Detroit.

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