The weekend and beyond: Preparing for holiday getaways and final shopping


The getaway traffic won’t be as intense as at Thanksgiving, but drivers like these on I-66 still will be sharing lanes with many holiday travelers. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Almost no road or transit work is scheduled for the D.C. region during the holiday weekend, as people launch their holiday getaways or finish their Christmas shopping. 

The Capital Weather Gang’s solstice weekend forecast includes a high wind for Saturday and high temperatures in the 40s throughout the period. It’s a decent getaway forecast for the immediate D.C. area, but be sure to check the weather along your entire route. Drivers heading west, for example, may encounter snow and snow drifts.

Here’s some additional getaway guidance, and some travel tips for those staying closer to home.

Getaway guidance

With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays, count on some people creating four-day weekends. But that doesn’t mean we’ll re-create the intensity of the Thanksgiving getaway scene. For example, many young families will spend Christmas Day at home before heading off on trips later in the week.

While Friday may not be the equivalent of Thanksgiving eve, the days right before Christmas offer special travel challenges, because they blend last-minute shoppers, regular commuters and people heading out of town. “That makes for a very uncomfortable mix on our roads,” said Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic. “They don’t handle one function very well, much less a mix of all three.”

David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, noted an extra difficulty factor for travelers: They will be sharing the road with drivers coming from holiday parties. “The bigger concern over holidays like this tends to be impaired driving crashes,” he said.

Many drivers heading south are interested in the rules for Virginia’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Normal HOV rules will be in effect Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

These restrictions are lifted on Interstates 95, 395 and 66 on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day before returning the day after each holiday.

On Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the I-95/I-395 reversible lanes will be southbound until midnight, then will switch to northbound by 2 o’clock the following morning.

For those heading up I-95, remember that the Maryland House service center in Aberdeen is closed for renovations, but the Chesapeake House 14 miles beyond, in North East, Md., remains open.

Road resources: Travelers in Maryland, Virginia and many other states along the getaway routes can get information on traffic conditions by dialing 511 within the state and using the voice menus to target their interests. Please let a passenger do this or get off the road. The voice-recognition systems can be less than perfect when there’s highway noise in the background. Don’t concentrate so intensely on making yourself understood that you lose focus on the road.

Travelers also can check these services on the Web before leaving. Maryland information is at www.md511.org. For Virginia, it’s www.511virginia.org.

Buses: Travelers who use intercity buses should note that the terminal has moved into the garage at Union Station. If you’re taking Metrorail to the buses, get off at the Union Station stop rather than at NoMa-Gallaudet U.

Airports: Air travelers are likely to encounter crowded conditions in the long-term parking areas at Reagan National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports during Christmas week. Before leaving home, check the airport Web sites for parking availability at National and Dulles. For BWI, it’s best to check the airport’s Twitter feed, @BWI_Airport, for updates.

Arrive at the airport extra early to get through the security line. This is the season when many of your fellow passengers will be inexperienced travelers, and they will be carrying gifts that have to go through inspections.

Metro weekend delays

The only work scheduled for this weekend and next is on the Green Line. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on these upcoming Saturdays and Sundays, Green Line trains will share a track between Greenbelt and College Park. Metro is building a test track in that area for the new 7000 series rail cars.

During those work hours, every other train will begin or end its run at College Park, rather than Greenbelt. Between College Park and Branch Avenue, train service will follow its normal weekend pattern. Add about 10 minutes to the normal travel time through the work zone.

Holiday Metro service

Metro plans regular weekday service for Monday, Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day: Metrobus and Metrorail will operate on a Sunday schedule, with the rail system open from 7 a.m. to midnight; MetroAccess subscription trips are cancelled.

Commuter trains

Virginia Railway Express will not run trains Monday or Tuesday. On New Year’s Eve, the system will operate on its “S” Schedule, a reduced level of service. There will be no service New Year’s Day.

MARC will operate the Penn and Brunswick lines on their “S” schedule on Monday. There will be no service on the Camden Line. No MARC trains will operate Christmas Day.

On New Year’s Eve, the Penn and Brunswick lines will again be on the “S” schedule, with no service on the Camden Line. No trains will operate New Year’s Day.

D.C. traffic rules

The District will not enforce parking meter regulations, residential parking restrictions or  rush hour lane use rules on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. But all of them will be in effect on Monday, Christmas Eve, and the following Monday, New Year’s Eve.

New escape hatch

The District has opened the ramp that leads from the outbound freeway span of the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River directly to northbound D.C. 295.This is an easier route for travelers who use the freeways on both sides of the river than going to Pennsylvania Avenue, crossing the Sousa Bridge and then turning left onto the ramp for D.C. 295 North.

Sober reminder

The SoberRide program operates from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night through Jan. 1 to help keep the roads safe by giving adults who have had too much to drink an alternative to driving home.

During SoberRide’s hours, D.C. area residents can call the toll-free number, 800-200-TAXI (8294) and get a ride home in a cab. It’s free for the first $30 of the ride.

 

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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