Dr. Gridlock's Thanksgiving travel tips

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; 7:22 PM

Travelers departing for their Thanksgiving holidays at midweek are likely to encounter some bad weather, the Capital Weather Gang says. The highway departments should have pulled up their orange barrels by Wednesday afternoon, but that still leaves the concrete barriers and the lane shifts.

Thanksgiving travel

Here are some updates on key bottlenecks to the northeast.

For the Interstate 95 corridor, the Maryland Transportation Authority recommends these times for the getaway:

-- Tuesday and Wednesday, before 6 a.m. and after 11 p.m.

-- Thursday through Sunday, before 9 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Bob Marbourg of WTOP radio, who has studied traffic patterns in the Washington area for three decades, gave me some good advice about the getaway:

"It's not just Wednesday anymore! . . . Although Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, has been one of the heaviest travel days of the year, people go to great lengths to avoid being part of it."

"People will leave as early as the family can be assembled, or when college dorms close, or when schools close or when the work day ends."

The Delaware Department of Transportation warns that lengthy delays are likely at the Newark Toll Plaza on Interstate 95, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday when you head north and on Sunday and Monday heading south.

The toll plaza is being rebuilt to accommodate highway-speed E-ZPass lanes in the middle. Like other states, Delaware pulls up the orange cones and opens all available lanes during the holidays, but the construction has reduced the number of lanes at the toll plaza. Also, the three open northbound E-ZPass lanes on the left side of the toll plaza merge into a single lane just beyond the plaza.

Travelers can get traffic updates and camera views on the Delaware Department of Transportation Web site at Deldot.gov by following @DelawareDOT on Twitter or by tuning to radio station WTMC (1380 AM).

Beating bottlenecks

Some drivers like to bail out onto U.S. Route 40 as an alternative to northbound I-95, but the Maryland Transportation Authority advises that the travel lanes on the Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River have been reduced from two lanes to one in each direction for repair work.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge also is popular with northbound drivers seeking U.S. Route 301 as an alternative. The transportation authority offers this advice:

-- Tuesday evening's rush hour will be a busy combination of holiday travelers and regular commuter traffic.

-- On Wednesday, it's best to travel before noon or after 7 p.m.

-- On Thursday and Friday, the best hours are before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m.

-- Sunday's westbound traffic will be heavy all day.

The Virginia Department of Transportation advises drivers to begin their travels before noon Wednesday. The department's observations show the busiest getaway period is noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

VDOT says drivers can expect heavy congestion in these areas:

-- Interstate 95 between Richmond and the Springfield Interchange

-- Interstate 66 both ways in Northern Virginia

-- The Interstate 81/77 interchange near Wytheville

-- I-81 near Lexington to south of Roanoke

-- Interstates 64 and 95 in the Richmond area

Virginia HOV rules

The High Occupancy Vehicle lane restrictions on I-66, I-95 and I-395 will be lifted on Thanksgiving Day, but the normal rules will apply on Wednesday and Friday. Here's what that means.

On I-95/395, three or more in a vehicle can use the lanes northbound from 6 to 9 a.m. From 3:30 to 6 p.m., three or more in a vehicle can use the lanes southbound.

On I-66 inside the Capital Beltway, two or more must be in a vehicle from 6:30 to 9 a.m. eastbound and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. westbound. Outside the Beltway, the HOV-2 rules apply in the left lane from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. eastbound and from 3 to 7 p.m. westbound.

On the weekend, the I-95/395 reversible lanes will be southbound from 1 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday, and northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday through the rest of the weekend.

Metro getaway service

Metro provides transit service to the Washington region's three airports but has no specific plans to boost that service for the Thanksgiving getaway and return. Instead, Metro officials say they will monitor the number of people using the trains and the B30 and 5A airport buses, and add service if needed.

Wednesday: Travelers can use the Yellow and Blue lines to reach Reagan National Airport. If your destination is BWI Marshall Airport, take the Green Line to Greenbelt Station and board the B30 bus. The one-way fare is now $6. (Note that MARC and Amtrak trains from Union Station stop at the BWI Airport Station, where you can board a free shuttle to the airport terminal.)

Those heading for Dulles International Airport can take an Orange Line train to the West Falls Church Station and board a Washington Flyer bus to the airport terminal. Or they can take the 5A Metrobus from L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn stations. The bus fare is $6.

Thanksgiving Day: On Thursday, Metrorail will operate on a Sunday schedule, opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight. All trains will be six cars long. The B30 and 5A will operate on a Sunday schedule. Parking at Metro lots and garages is free on the holiday. Off-peak fares are in effect all day.

Friday: Metrorail will operate on a regular weekday schedule from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. with six-car trains. Peak fares will be charged and regular weekday parking rates will apply.

Saturday: Metro will operate its regular Saturday schedule, with the rail system opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 3 a.m. Parking at lots and garages is free.

Sunday: The plan for the big return day calls for operating a regular Sunday schedule, with Metro opening at 7 a.m. and closing at midnight. Parking will be free. Metro says it will monitor conditions on the rail lines and buses that serve the airports and add service as needed.

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