Dr. Gridlock’s tips for December holiday getaways

Columnist

Christmas and New Year’s Day almost always create three-day travel weekends, if not four-day weekends, a la Thanksgiving. The rarity is this December’s timing: holidays falling smack in the middle of the week.

Some travelers will turn these into super-extended weekends, while others will take the entire week off. This will spread out departure times, so there should not be any getaway periods as intense as the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons before Thanksgiving.

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. View Archive

Drivers are most likely to encounter heavier-than-normal traffic Friday afternoon and evening and also on the afternoon and evening of Christmas Eve. When I looked at the Washington region’s traffic maps and cameras to spot extra congestion during the Thanksgiving getaway, I most often found it on Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia.

It’s a combination of the high volume of traffic along the East Coast’s Main Street and the 29-mile construction zone for the 95 Express Lanes. Look for this traffic pattern to continue in the coming week.

Here are a few other reminders for long-distance drivers:

Metrobus’s B30 route is boosted with extra buses, giving air travelers an appealing option over long-term parking at BWI Airport. (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

■Check the weather forecast not only for your departure time from the region, but also for the arrival time at your destination.

■Most highway departments suspend work during the peak holiday travel times. But if you take extra days off for your travels, you might encounter work zones.

■Maryland’s work-zone speed cameras are never off-duty.

■Traffic slows along the New Jersey Turnpike in the center of the state, where the turnpike is being widened.

■Some Northeast highway and bridge tolls have risen since last year.

■If you are driving overnight to avoid traffic or keep to a tight schedule, be wary of your body clock, which might be telling you it’s time to fall asleep. The best cure for drowsy driving is to stop driving.

Getting to airports

Most air travelers won’t encounter the crush periods of Thanksgiving, because people’s schedules are much more flexible in the Christmas-New Year’s Day period. The downside is that long-term parking might be tight by the time the latecomers reach the airports.

Some notes for air travelers:

Consider transit. Metro puts extra buses on the 5A route, between the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and Dulles International Airport, and on the B30 route, between the Greenbelt Metrorail station and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. BWI is also accessible via MARC and Amtrak from Union Station and New Carrollton.

For status updates on BWI parking areas, check the airport’s Twitter feed, @BWI_Airport.

If you’re leaving for just a few days, consider parking at BWI’s daily garage rather than in the uncovered long-term parking lots. The rate at the garage is $12 a day. At the long-term lots, it’s $8 per day.

Reagan National Airport is the most challenging in the Washington region for parking at holiday time, but the airport also has the best real-time information system on parking availability. Find out how many spaces are available by going to the Web site www.metwash
airports.com/reagan
and clicking on the “Parking Information” link, or call the parking hotline at 703-417-PARK (7275).

For parking information about Dulles International Airport, go to www.metwashairports.
com/dulles
and click on the same link. This is a guide to hourly, valet, daily and economy parking, but without the extra guidance of knowing how many spaces are left. Travelers can also call 703-572-4500.

Storm warnings

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I had occasion to be driving in Herndon, and one area had nonfunctioning traffic lights.

Almost all the cars I encountered did not stop at these lights but sped through at 40 mph. Please put a short note in your next column about the rule to treat these nonfunctioning lights as stop signs, then proceed accordingly.

Thomas Lewandowski,
Herndon

DG: During the recent wintry storms, some areas lost power to their traffic signals and, once again, many drivers failed to observe the basic safety law that my letter writer cites. If the signals are dark, treat the intersection as an all-way stop.

It doesn’t matter which direction has the most lanes or the most traffic. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night. All drivers must stop, look and proceed only when it’s safe.

Drivers also wrote in with some of their other top complaints about the misbehavior of other drivers in storms. Topping the list, as it usually does, was the failure to clear snow and ice from roofs. As these drivers speed along, these wintry crowns might fly off and land on the windshields of drivers behind them.

Others complained about the failure by some to turn on their headlights when they turn on their windshield wipers. It’s a safety rule to increase a vehicle’s visibility to other drivers in bad weather.

Highway officials noted with dismay that too many drivers were passing plows, which is dangerous for both plow driver and car driver. And it makes no sense to pass, because the plow is clearing the way ahead.

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