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Tips on timing getaways

Many travelers and many transportation experts offer tips on safe and relatively painless trips during the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer. It's striking that they almost always cite this advice: Picking your route is only part of the job. Picking the time you travel is at least as important.

If Thursday is your getaway day, be prepared for high heat, and then potentially strong thunderstorms at night. That's a cold front coming through. Showers are in the Capital Weather Gang's forecast throughout Friday. Saturday is a transition day, then the forecast looks real good for Sunday and Monday.

Picking your window
This advice on timing comes from David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration: Holiday travel delays are generally most influenced by when someone travels, weather conditions and incidents, he said. He saw that AAA is estimating a 6.4 percent increase in travel this year, but noted that such estimates are relative: "Relative to whether it is raining, relative to traveling at 4 p.m. on Friday or 6 a.m. Saturday, relative to if there is a disabled truck on the shoulder or relative to the sun glare."

[Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Relations at AAA Mid-Atlantic, will be online at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss Memorial Day travel.]

Memorial Day Holiday travel tends to be more local, rather than distance. That's for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Most people tend to go to the beach, to a cookout or maybe to a parade, he said.

Generally speaking the same interstates that are congested every Friday are even more so the Friday before Memorial Day. However I-97 south toward Annapolis, US 50 east toward the Bay Bridge, MD 404 toward Delaware, I-70 and I-68 toward Deep Creek and I-95 north toward Delaware take the brunt of the extra traffic.

"The best advice is to avoid traveling during peak holiday travel times if at all possible, have a map (or maps) so if something does happen, you have multiple options, plan ahead using Web sites like, stay patient as incidents will occur as they do every day of the year, and make driving a full time responsibility," Buck said.

Among the online resources, I'd recommend the State Highway Administration's Web page for current traffic conditions. Virginia uses the 511 travel information system, which provides updates via phone (511 if calling in Virginia), Web and Twitter.

Planning and patience
If you do the first of those things, you're more likely to have the second thing. Far too often on holiday weekends, Buck said, drivers are involved in crashes caused by impaired driving, driving while texting, or road rage. All can be avoided if motorists make better decisions.

A bit of planning and advance car care (such as checking wiper fluid, oil, gas, lights, tire pressure) go a long way to avoiding extensive delays and major frustration, Buck said.

Worst travel times
The heaviest travel times for Memorial Day traditionally are Friday from 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. and most of the day on Monday, with the cookouts, parades and other outdoor activities, Buck noted. Thursday night rush hour is also likely to be heavier than normal. If it rains Friday, motorists should expect more substantial delays but it is going to be extremely heavy Friday regardless sun or rain, he predicted.

That's a pretty good start. Add your own advice below.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 27, 2010; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Driving , Getaway , holiday travel  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock  
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Doc: Any idea when the light at Chain Bridge Rd and Glebe Rd will be fixed? In the AM, there should be a steady green arrow for Glebe Rd onto Chain Bridge, but as of this morning it cycling through with a red.

Also, it seems that some drivers are trying to cut in front of everyone going in the reverse direction by stopping in the center lane of the bridge which should be inbound (for Chain Bridge Rd. drivers).

Posted by: yell53 | May 27, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

On the Virginia side, I would imagine I-95 between Springfield and Fredericksburg will be its usual parking-lot self, especially southbound on Monday.

Posted by: ajfroggie | May 27, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I think the new traffic signal pattern (with the red phase for Glebe) is safer. You shouldn't have a steady green arrow for Glebe while Chain Bridge Road also has a green unless there is a physical barrier there.

And I-95 will be a parking lot all weekend, not just Monday, and not just southbound (actually, Monday the heavier flow would be northbound into town as people return from their weekends).

Posted by: thetan | May 27, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

thetan -- do you have any stats to show that the old setup was less safe?

Posted by: yell53 | May 27, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

No but I have plenty of current design standards. The intersection of Spout Run Parkway and Lorcom Lane is how such setup should be constructed, with traffic physically directed into its own lane by an island.

How do you prevent a driver from turning from Chain Bridge Road into the right lane of Chain Bridge (which is what these drivers do most of the day during non-rush hours) right into the path of someone coming from Glebe Road? A driver who is unfamiliar with the area has no idea that Glebe still has a green, because that is not how 99.99% of other T-intersections work.

Posted by: thetan | May 27, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

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