What’s ahead for Thanksgiving holiday getaway

November 20, 2012

Drivers crowd the Capital Beltway at the Legion Bridge, as they will Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before Thanksgiving. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Make a note for next year: Tuesday morning is a fine time to begin the Thanksgiving getaway. The D.C. region’s major escape routes looked pretty clear through the morning rush.

The commuter paths inside the Capital Beltway had many of their usual jams, though it was interesting to see that the west side of the Beltway in Virginia, where the 495 Express Lanes opened over the weekend, was in decent shape, based on traffic maps and camera views.

I did see many Red Line riders lugging their suitcases off the train at Union Station, where they could head to either Amtrak or the new intercity bus bays in the garage.

If you’re driving away from the D.C. area this evening or Wednesday, it won’t be pretty. But at least you’ve got a very good travel forecast from the Capital Weather Gang for the main getaway days.

Use this link to view my annual Thanksgiving getaway guide, including our four maps.

If you’re staying in the D.C. area, the traffic tips for holiday shopping may help you get through congestion around malls. (See more holiday links below.)

Travelers asked a few more questions during Monday’s online chat.

Driving on Thanksgiving

Q. What will be the best way to drive to Philadelphia from Lanham, Md., on Thanksgiving Day?

A. On Thanksgiving Day, I’d just make it a straight shot north on I-95. Traffic should be light, though there could be some small pockets of congestion.

I’ve driven north on I-95 to New Jersey several times on Thanksgiving Day and have not encountered serious traffic. And of course, it’s especially light compared to Tuesday and Wednesday.

Now, if this is something you do a lot, you could instead head east on Route 50, get over to the Eastern Shore and follow Route 301 up to Delaware. You can link up with I-95 that way. It’s a more scenic drive, though it’s a few more miles.

All peak, all the time?

Q. Your note in yesterday’s column suggested that the old rule to travel on Tuesday to avoid the peak of Wednesday travel doesn’t work anymore. But you didn’t say when the “new Tuesday” is — or, rather, when the “new off-peak” is. Is there any time slot that will give us a chance at a hassle-free trip? Or do we just have to accept all peak, all the time?

A. Yes, there is, but you’ve already missed it. I say that not to tease, but because I drove up 95 on Saturday morning and back down 95 on Sunday morning. Two great trips. However, Friday night was very heavy on I-95 in the D.C. area.

My conclusion: If I had a very flexible schedule and could take all or most of Thanksgiving week off, I’d head out on Saturday morning.

Monday evening, Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening all will be crowded with long-distance Thanksgiving traffic. Bob Marbourg of WTOP was telling me that it just depends on when people can pull their kids out of school.

Thanksgiving Day is good, for trips of reasonable length.

Really late-night or really early-morning trips are okay over the next few days. But as I wrote yesterday, watch what your body clock is telling you. It may be telling you that you should be asleep when you’re behind the wheel and need to be most awake.

Thanksgiving Travel

Q. How bad will the trip north (to N.J.) be on Wednesday? We plan on getting on the road at noonish. Are we insane for even thinking about doing this?

A. You will have lots of company on Wednesday. It’s not as bad as it used to be because people spread their trips out more. But it’s still one of the worst traffic days of the year on the highways.

One thing about longish trips on the holidays is that even if you get away from D.C. in good shape, you still have a decent chance of winding up in somebody else’s rush hour.

(We’ve been talking about E-ZPasses. If I used my E-ZPass only on Thanksgiving Wednesday, I’d consider it a good investment.)

Driving with Baby

Q. My husband and I are going to Virginia Beach for Thanksgiving, and we are leaving late Tuesday night in hopes that our 10 week old will sleep the whole way. Should we return late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, in the hopes that we have a calm ride. We’d prefer to leave Sunday because it means more time with family, but I’m nervous that 95 will be awful coming back into to D.C.

A. You’re right to be nervous about that return trip. I-95 approaching Washington can be really awful at the end of a weekend — even if it wasn’t a huge holiday weekend.

I think you’d be in pretty good shape if you left really, really early Sunday.

And please note what I said in the earlier response about paying attention to your body clock. With a 10-week-old, you’re probably pretty tired already, and now you’ve got a long drive at a time when you’d normally be trying to fall asleep.

Pay attention to how alert the driver is. Try to change drivers regularly. Take rest stops.

I-95 on T-day

Q. You may have not had problems, but about 6 years ago I drove from Rockville to Long Island and there were some very, very bad spots on 95. The worst was north of Philly (closer to N.Y.), but it was not an easy drive by any definition. Delaware tolls were bad. I left around 10 a.m. Leave earlier than that if you can.

A. The I-95 tolls in Newark, Del., used to be the main thing we talked about on the Thanksgiving getaway. It was one of the worst bottlenecks on the East Coast.

Last year, Delaware put in four highway-speed E-ZPass lanes, and the traffic is infinitely better. I think this is my favorite federal stimulus project.

Related links to holiday travel stories:

 

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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Mark Berman · November 20, 2012