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Thinking of Thanksgiving traffic

People cram a lot of traveling into this week, and I'd like to help make their trips safe and as painless as they can be. For the next three days, we'll talk about specific routes and times as well as general concepts governing a successful trip. Let's start with some basics.

Don't count on the weak economy keeping people off the roads, or the weak weather forecast. There's never much elasticity in the Thanksgiving getaway. People want to do this, just like you. AAA estimates that nearly a million people from the Washington area will be traveling between Wednesday and Sunday. Thousands of them have heard our warnings about avoiding the peak getaway period, from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday. And thousands more know your shortcut.

Thanksgiving construction zones
Transportation departments pull up most of their orange cones for the holiday break. Around here, the Maryland State Highway Administration plans no short-term lane closings from 3 p.m. Tuesday until the Monday after Thanksgiving. The Virginia Department of Transportation will suspend temporary lane closings from noon Wednesday to noon Monday. The longer-term construction barriers, lane narrowings and lane shifts, such as those in place for the Beltway HOT lanes project, remain where they are.

Times to avoid
Generally, the peak of the peak -- the getaway time you'd most like to avoid, if possible -- is noon to 8 p.m. on Wednesday. More and more people are recognizing that and leaving early, so while Tuesday is better than Wednesday, it's not a smooth sail. Also, the earlier you leave this week, the more likely you are to encounter some of the last-minute road construction occurring before the holiday break.

[In our transportation discussion forum, Taken for a Ride, I'm asking for your opinion on what day and what time are the best for making the getaway from the Washington area.]

Virginia bottlenecks
Holiday tradition says you should expect heavy congestion at these places on Wednesday and Sunday:
-- Interstate 95 between Richmond and the 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

Maryland bottlenecks
Expect congestion on Wednesday and Sunday at these points:
-- I-70 through Frederick heading toward Western Maryland
-- I-68 through Cumberland
-- I-95 across the Wilson Bridge
-- Any roads parallel to I-95 between White Marsh and the Delaware line including Routes 1, 7 and 40.
-- All of I-495 in Montgomery County

By Robert Thomson  |  November 23, 2009; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Thanksgiving  
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