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Labor Day: Holiday Travel Tips and Advice

Traffic headed East on Route 50 into Ocean City, Md., is bumper to bumper Friday, Aug. 29, 2003, during the start of Labor Day weekend.
Traffic headed East on Route 50 into Ocean City, Md., is bumper to bumper Friday, Aug. 29, 2003, during the start of Labor Day weekend. (Joey Gardner - AP)

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Lon Anderson
Director, Public and Government Affairs, AAA Mid-Atlantic
Friday, September 4, 2009; 12:00 PM

AAA has projected that the number of Americans traveling on vacation this Labor Day weekend will be heavily impacted by when the holiday falls on the calendar. Approximately 39.1 million travelers are expected to take a trip of 50 miles or more away from home, a decrease of 13.3 percent from 2008. Labor Day fell on Sept. 1 last year allowing for a long weekend trip before a new school year started in many regions of the country; this year it's later, Sept. 8.

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Lon Anderson, director of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, was online Friday, Sept. 4, at Noon ET to discuss travel conditions along the roadways, gas prices, travel tips and accommodations and the impact of Metro's plans to shutter Reagan National Airport Station this weekend, forcing travelers to use shuttle buses.

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Lon Anderson: Good afternoon, everyone and thanks for joining me--I'm Lon Anderson with AAA Mid-Atlantic and we are at the beginning of another exciting holiday weekend in the DC area. We are projecting lots of travel--some 854,000 area residents heading out, but that's down about 14% largely bcause Labor Day is a week later this year than last. So, let's get started with the questions...

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Bethesda, Md.: It looks like DCA's long-term parking will be fully by tomorrow, when I have an early morning flight. I can imagine that closing Metro stations wreaks havoc on the DCA parking situation. Any words of advice?

Lon Anderson: Hello Bethesda--great question. I think you may be in luck. AAA is projecting very light air travel this holiday, and I talked with Tara Hamilton at the Airports Authority and she confirmed that they are also expecting it to be a much lighter. So, even with Metro service to National stopped, the parking lots should not be jammed. Be safe!

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Fairfax, Virginia: I am traveling to Virginia Beach from Fairfax tomorrow morning -- and I know, this is a boring question -- but what would be the best time to leave to avoid backups? I am planning to take Fairfax County Parkway south to Route 95 South.

Everyone tells me there won't be much traffic since kids return to school on Tuesday, but I don't believe them!!

Lon Anderson: Hello Fairfax. You are right not to believe those who say there won't be much traffic--especially to the beaches (and we've already had a crash this morning on the Bay Bridge, for those heading to OC). We are projecting some 735,000 folks hitting the highways for that total of 854,000 area travlers. It's a big driving holiday weekend. That said, getting out fairly early tomorrow morning should be a great plan. The earlier the better. Be safe and have a great holiday!

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Springfield, Va.: Hi, Lon. When do you think the peak times of travel will be and where will we see the biggest delays?

Lon Anderson: Springfield--great question. I actually think the biggest delays will probably be on Monday afternoon. We tend to leave town over a couple of days, but we all need to be back by Monday night to be at work and in school Tuesday. I think the Bay Bridge could be the biggest bottle neck in our region. With such good weather predicted, many will probably choose to head to the shore. Enjoy!

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Falls Church, Va.: Thanks for doing this chat! I'm heading to Virginia Beach this weekend, and I can't get out of work early. Would you recommend getting on 95S (ugh) right after 5 p.m., or would it be better to wait until 8 p.m. to start the trip? Do you think traffic will be better at all later in the evening?

Lon Anderson: Falls Church--I think your suggestion that you wait a while this evening is a good one. I'd head out after dinner, when the comuter traffic has cleared. Remember not to drive drowsy however!! Be safe!

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Washington, D.C.: I'm driving to Cape May, N.J., from Silver Spring this weekend. Unfortunately my wife and I have to work a full day today. Would leaving tonight or early tomorrow morning be worse to the shore? What about Saturday afternoon, would the roads be clearer by then or bad? Thank you for your advice.

Lon Anderson: Hey DC--Cape May--I'm envious. I would head out very early. You've also got to consider the ferry schedule. Leaving later and you might have a problem with the ferry. I'd go on line and check that out, and see if you can get reservations just to make it a smoother trip. Bon Voyage!

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Kingstowne, Va.: Heading to Charlottesville for the game tomorrow. I live near Springfield Mall, so my normal route is I-95 south to VA-3 (Exit 130), then down VA-20 and US-15 through Orange and Gordonsville. I'm wondering if you have any sense of how I-95 tends to be on Labor Day Saturday. US-1 is always there as an alternate, but I'm chewing over the idea of cutting across Fairfax County to VA-28 and then US-29. I-66 seems like a lousy route due to the road works project at Gainesville.

Do you have any speculation on what to expect with I-95 this weekend? We're thinking about leaving at 10:30 or 11:00 since the game doesn't kick off until 6 p.m..

Lon Anderson: Hey Kingstowne--A Wahoo fan?

Actually the last couple of times I have been through the Gainesville/Haymarket area, the trip has been much smoother on I-66. I-95 will likely be very busy much of the weekend with unpredictable delays. Plus, Potomac Mills with Labor Day sales, could be a real slow point. I think the Fair Fax parkway to 66 to 29 might be a better bet. Good luck and go Cavs!

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Rockville, Md.: We are about to make reservations for tomorrow (Sat-Mon) at a vacation rental in Great Cacapon, W.Va. We've never been there and Google says that it will take us 1 hr 40 min if we take I-70W and 2h 29 min if we use I 66W. I guess that we will take I-70 but any recommendations will be appreciated.

Lon Anderson: Congrats, Rockville--beautiful country out there in the Cacapon area--I'm there many weekends and am heading out early tomorrow for that area. I would recommend, if you leave early to take the Beltway to 66 to 81. It avoids getting tangled up in the Haprers Ferry Traffic on 340 and Charlestown. Good luck and be safe!

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RE: Cape May: Mr. AAA! Don't assume that just because it's the most direct way as-the-crow-flies, that Silver Spring is taking the ferry. It can be faster to go up through N.J .and over the Del Mem Bridge to get to Cape May. If that is the case, then put out the usual warnings about the fleecing tolls at the MD/DE border on I-95.

Lon Anderson: Hey RE Cape May--Very good point. If our Cape May traveler was going by highway all of the way, he/she risks getting toll booth slow downs especially in DE not to mention all of the expensive tolls. And the Ferry is a wonderful expereince that I think enhances the Cape May trip. But the ferry also costs. Great point.

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Virginia Beach Native: Hi. I'd just like to share that I live in Alexandria but am from Virginia Beach. I go down there all the time, and the only times I ever consider leaving are after 7:30 or 8 on Friday night or around 6:00 am Saturday morning. I left at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning about a month ago, and the trip took me over 6 hours. Thanks for letting me share.

Lon Anderson: Hey native--great advice for our Fairfax travler heading out, who just wrote a second question about best times to travel. You nailed it for me. Thanks. No six hour crawls for me. I'd be on the road by 6 or earlier!! Thanks, VB Native!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Lon,

Headed north on Saturday morning. What would be the fastest way through Baltimore -- Fort McHenry or Harbor tunnel?

Thank you.

Lon Anderson: Arlington--There's never a sure answer to this question, but I would be inclined to take 895 and miss downtown, but one crash can change that advice. Always, when concerned about traffic, check out the conditions on the local radio stations or on the web (not the driver, please). Good luck!

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Hyattsville, Md.: Hello,

I will be driving from NYC to D.C. on Monday evening. I suppose that heavy congestion should be expected. Around what time in the evening do the roads typically clear up? I want to make the trip later than normal to avoid the traffic.

Lon Anderson: Hey Hyattsville--As a rule, the later the lighter the traffic, unless we have construction which often happens at night, or a crash. That said, road construction is being suspended just about everywhere for the holiday weekend. I would think all would be fairly calm by 8 p.m. Monday. But since you are local, you know traffic prognostication in the DC area is far from an exact science. Good luck and be safe!

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Washington, D.C.: Is Metro closing Reagan Airport metro station to do track work? If I visit Old Town, does that mean I have to use shuttles to get there? Thanks.

Lon Anderson: Hello, Washington! Yes Metro is closing the Airport, Crystal City and Pentagon City stations from 9:30 tonight (Friday) until 5 a.m. Tuesday. They will be offering shuttle buses, but I would check the Metro website for specifics. It will be an inconvience, but as the Post editorial said today, this weekend is probably the best time to close them because ridership will be much lighter and airport traffic is also expected to be relatively low. So, shuttles or cab would be your best bet.

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Bowie, Md.: I almost don't want to advertise this, but sometimes coming southbound on the NJTP, they will broadcast an advisory about backups at the southern end toll plaza. Then we use 322 (Exit 2) to take the Commodore Barry Bridge to I-95 in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Does that bridge ever get severely backed up?

Lon Anderson: Hey Bowie--thanks for the help. I have a question from another person asking about what to do if the southern end of the NJTP is slammed and you'v made a great suggestion. I hnoestly have not monitored traffic on the Commodore Perry Bridge recently, but I'm betting it does, but it still may be good alternative when the NJTP gets really backed up. Thanks for the tip!

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I've been trying to find your tips for getting to NJ/NY/CT, etc., by bypassing most or all of I-95/DE Mem Bridge/NJ TP and am not sure I've found the latest and greatest. Can you address this or post a link, please? I'm looking to get from here to I-195 East in middle NJ to go to the beach (Belmar/Asbury Park area) leaving Friday 7 p.m.-ish. Thanks

Lon Anderson: Hey Gaithersburg--my expert who does the Triptiks, says: you are sort of stuck. You could do 83 to 76 but that takes you west and is much longer. You Could do the Bay Bridge to Lewis and take the Ferry and then go up the NJ coast.

Not too many good alternatives. Good luck and be safe!!

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Glen Echo, Md.: Lon,

Long time AAA member (my card used to say member since 1982, which was interesting since I was born in 1976 - my parents had added me to their membership)!

Does AAA have a stance on EZPass-only lanes (or all electronic tolling) and the increased efficiency it has on traffic? Seems to me that SOMEONE at MWAA or VDOT would realize that the Dulles Toll Road would do more business with EZPass only lanes on exit and entrance ramps, while reducing their cost of staffing, equipment (I always see people fixing the coin collection machines), cash collection. Or does MWAA lose money on EZPass transactions?

Also, I was in Austin recently, and they have all-electronic tolling - very cool, read the license plate of my rental car and after I got home, I put my rental contract number into a website and just paid it online. I know the Dallas North Tollroad did that too when they were doing construction on their main toll plaza.

Lon Anderson: Hello Glen Echo--First, thanks for your long time AAA membership!! We have been encouraging EZPass.

Maryland's recent decision to start charging monthly fees is a bit of a bump in the road and caused 19,000 to cancel their MD accounts in July. MD notes it cost them money to maintain accounts. That said, it also saves them a lot of money on toll takers, and in congestion relief. But no question it can help especially on places like the Bay Bridge. You are right that there are a lot better ways to collect tolls and many now have equipment that reads your transponder info at regular speed so you don't have to slow to 10-25mph. Thanks for sharing your experience in Austin.

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Northward?: My son has a soccer tournament this weekend north of Baltimore (we live in Virginia). Is 95 between the two Beltways expected to be bad over the weekend? We can't control our travel times...only the amount of time we budget to get there!

Lon Anderson: Northward--allow extra time, and it will be bad at peak periods, but at other times, hopefully it will flow, but I-95 is so heavily used that it takes very little to create long delays. Extra time is the best remedy, and the last thinkg you want to do is to have to rush. Be safe!

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Alexandria, Va.: We're planning to head south (halfway to Richmond) to go to a wine festival on Saturday afternoon. Any idea what the best time to go might be?

Lon Anderson: Alexandria--You haven't left yet? Seriously, it could be very slow much of the day. You might consider leaving in the morning and having brunch down closer to your destination--there are some really charming places to explore. Good luck and hope you find some great wine!

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Rockville, Md.: Very general question:

Does AAA have any overall advice about the use of GPS receivers with traffic updates?

Lon Anderson: Good question, Rockville. Generally speaking I think they can be very helpful, because the latest ones combine the traffic congestion and routing data to keep you moving. That said nothing is fool proof, and I wouldn't blindly follow its lead without checking a map. My GPS has routed me on some real adventures on occasion. I guess that's why will still give out millions of Triptiks!

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Lon Anderson: Hey everybody--I've about overstayed my welcome, but it has been fun. Thank you so much for all of the questions, and a special thanks to the Post.com folks for having me on. Have a great and safe holiday weekend! Lon

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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