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Avoid Holiday Congestion This Week

heavy traffic on I-95.jpg
Heavy holiday traffic is right ahead, as seen here on I-95. (Thomson)

Get out of town now. That's the advice from my readers and from transportation departments. Don't wait till after noon on Wednesday to make your Thanksgiving escape.

But if you suspect it's not the first time you've heard that advice, you're right. More and more people do start the Thanksgiving getaway earlier in the week. So other periods -- Tuesday evening, for example -- also are starting to get crowded on the roads.

AAA reports that the national average price of gas fell below $2 a gallon on Friday, for the first time since March 2005. Prices have fallen nearly 50 percent since peaking in mid-July at $4.11 a gallon.

While AAA projects that fewer people will travel far for Thanksgiving this year, it still expects a travel boom for the week, with Wednesday afternoon and Sunday being the peak driving times.

On the Nov. 16 Commuter page in The Post, I offered some suggestions I've collected from readers over the past few years about alternative holiday routes.

But most of those readers also advice that the timing of your departure is a bigger part of success than the route. There are no undiscovered shortcuts.

[The Post Travel section's Flight Crew invited me to join them for their Travel Talk online discussion at 2 p.m. today, in case I can help with any of your questions about driving out of here for the holidays. If you'd like to submit a question or comment before the chat begins, use this link.]

The Virginia Department of Transportation offers some specific advice based on traffic data collected from its road sensors since 2003. The heaviest volume on the Interstate system will likely occur from noon and 8 p.m. Wednesday, VDOT says. Congestion on the return trip is harder to predict, because motorists tend to head home from Friday through Sunday. Still, the heaviest volumes are likely to occur Sunday afternoon.

Expect heavy congestion at these places in Virginia:
-- Interstate 95 between Richmond and I-495/I-395 Springfield Interchange
-- I-66 eastbound and westbound in Northern Virginia
-- I-81/I-77 interchange near Wytheville
-- I-81 near Lexington to south of Roanoke
-- I-64/I-95 in the Richmond area

In Maryland, some obvious congestion points will be the Interstate toll plazas in Baltimore and on I-95 northbound just past the Susquehanna River (no toll there southbound).

Online sources of traffic information:
-- For Virginia, look at www.511virginia.org.
-- For Maryland, look at www.chart.state.md.us
-- For regional information, look at our Trafficpage.
-- This is The Weather Channel's page for forecasts along the Interstates.
-- Here's the I-95 Travelers Alert page listing construction projects from Florida to Maine.
-- The Federal Highway Administration also has a page of Traffic and Road Closure information nawtionwide.

By Robert Thomson  |  November 24, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Congestion , Getaway  
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Comments

Anyone know if there are any major road projects (or lane closures) on the 95 corridor up to Philadelphia?

Posted by: maon | November 24, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Regarding gas prices: Gas is really cheap along VA-3 going west from Fredericksburg right now; I paid $1.85 for 93 octane on Saturday in Wilderness.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 24, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I paid $1.69 at the Wawa in Gainesville yesterday.

The only major road project between here and Philly is the I-95 Express Toll Lanes project north of Baltimore. Lanes should not be closed, but some exits and entrances have moved from the left side to the right side (such as the ramp from 95 north to 695 west). This could pose some problems to "semi-occasional" drivers, who drive often enough that they think they remember where to go without having to read the signs, but not often enough to know that it has changed....and then you also have those relying on GPS devices lining up in the left lane and then having to scoot over to the right at the last minute.

No other major projects...the only other one was the widening of I-95 between DE Route 1 and I-295/I-495, but that project wrapped up last month, and there are now 5 lanes each way on that segment.

For those continuing up towards NYC (as opposed to Philly), DelDOT (or maybe DR&BA) is doing some work on I-295 between I-95 and the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Hopefully, they are attempting to widen I-295 to more than 2 through lanes in each direction, which is a horrible bottleneck. No lanes are closed, but the usual jersey walls and shifting lanes is enough to cause problems in this already horribly congested area.

Posted by: thetan | November 24, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Just an honest observation based on my experiences from the last 2-3 years over Thanksgiving week:

Travel on Wednesday afternoon around rushhour and into the evening has been a breeze the last several years. I remember listening to Bob Marburgh sp? on WTOP last Thanksgiving Eve as he commented how free flowing traffic was all over the area at 530pm. Is it me or do the transportation folks blow this whole get-away-day thing out of the water a bit? Or is it the media that over-exaggerates?

For the past 2 years, I have left Rockville, MD at around 530pm or 6pm and reached my destination for the holiday in Towson, MD no more than an hour later. I travel the usual route I-495 to I-95 to I-695 typically, although I also use US 29 as an alternate to I-95 fairly often.

It seems that the Thanksgiving travel period really has become so spread out that get-away-day is not what it once was. I think the Tuesday afternoon/evening before Thanksgiving has become an even busier travel day than the Wednesday in some regards.

Anyone else have similar experiences?

Posted by: xyv1027 | November 24, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

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