Travelers in the D.C. region are plotting their getaway strategies for the holidays and asking these questions about timing and routes.
Travel Friday night
“How do you think travel getting out of the D.C. area will be late Friday night, starting around 9 o’clock?”
DG: That was typical of the getaway concerns expressed during my online chat on Monday. The Christmas-New Year’s breakaway adds lots of traffic to our highways, but it’s more spread out than the Thanksgiving rush, because many people have more flexibility in scheduling at the end of the year.
For example, there are many families that will remain at home for the Christmas weekend, then begin a week-long trip on Monday, and still have the children home for the start of school in January. (You may see them crowding the roads around the malls this Friday evening and Saturday.)
But I don’t mean to paint a pretty picture of the Friday evening scene on the highways. There will be plenty of getaway traffic and it will mix with the normal Friday rush and, in certain areas, with some of that mall traffic.
The traveler planning to leave at 9 p.m. or later should do a lot better than the traveler driving off at 5 p.m. Then there’s also the early rush to consider. Many people will be leaving work early on Friday, some to get packed for a getaway and others to complete holiday shopping missions.
Traveling north for the holiday
“What time should I head north from D.C. on Thursday? Will traffic start for the weekend on Thursday?”
DG: On I-95, the holiday traffic already has started. Drivers on the highways in the D.C. region are likely to encounter some extra traffic all week. But if you can be flexible, leave very early or very late, to avoid the rush hours here, along your route and near your destination.
Also, keep checking the Capital Weather Gang’s forecast, because it’s still evolving. Right now, Thursday looks like a pretty good getaway day. The Gang says we may have rain today and Wednesday, mostly cloudy Thursday, chance of a shower Friday, light rain Saturday and mostly sunny on Christmas Day.
NYC area south to D.C. on Friday?
“My parents and sister are coming back to D.C. from visiting relatives in Bergen County, N.J., on Friday. They might not get a start until after 12 p.m. Is this an especially bad idea? To avoid traffic, should they start much earlier? I know there’s a mass migration north, but am not sure about coming to D.C. from N.Y.”
DG: Earlier would be better. If they take the standard route and come south on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ll encounter the lengthy construction zone where the turnpike is being widened. (This area will remind many drivers of the Capital Beltway work zone for the high-occupancy toll lanes.)
It should be pretty easy to get through Delaware now that the highway-speed E-ZPass lanes are open at the Newark toll plaza. But as they get farther south, they’ll encounter heavier traffic around Baltimore and D.C.
Pittsburgh and back by Christmas
“We’re traveling up to Pittsburgh Friday for the Steelers game 1 p.m. Christmas Eve. We plan to head back to D.C. after the game ends. Should we expect to see heavy traffic on both trips?”
DG: Possible snow showers in the Pittsburgh area on Saturday. Weather is the main thing I worry about for you. Be extra careful on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
For traffic, you’ll have the bottleneck at Breezewood, Pa., to deal with. That’s where you have to go local switching from I-70 to the turnpike. But otherwise, Saturday should not be a terrible day for traffic congestion, except around highway exits near malls.
Local note: The Redskins play the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. Saturday at FedEx Field off the Beltway in Landover. I don’t sense much enthusiasm for a game between these two teams, but it is the last Redskins home game of the season. In any case, there should be at least some extra traffic near the Landover Road, Arena Drive and Central Avenue exits on the Beltway. Through traffic should stay left around there.