Here’s some advice for people from the D.C. region whose holiday travels will take them through Virginia. Let’s start with a question that came in during Monday’s online discussion of transportation issues.
“My husband and I will be taking 95 South from Arlington to Durham, N.C., either Friday or Saturday. I’m thinking we leave Friday at 11 a.m. or 9 p.m., or Saturday at 5 a.m. Which departure time would give us the lesser headache? Thanks and happy holidays!
DG: “I wouldn’t do the 11 a.m. Friday and am leaning toward the 5 a.m. Saturday. The 11 a.m. Friday would probably get you clear of D.C. without too much trouble, but you’d run into more traffic later on as you drove south.
Saturday’s problem is most likely to be mall traffic, so if you left at 5 a.m., you should be in pretty good shape. (The Christmas weekend getaway isn’t usually as bad as the Thanksgiving getaway, because travelers spread out their trips more.)”
Now, I’m not saying that your getaway will be free of headaches; only that, whenever you leave, you’re likely to say, “Well, at least it isn’t as bad as Thanksgiving.”
One of the most important things in planning the timing and route for a Christmas getaway is a check on the weather forecast for the entire trip. And keep checking. The weather through the end of the week is unstable.
Right now, the Capital Weather Gang is saying this:
We’re likely to have rain today. Then, “Mild weather sticks around through Friday with another round of rain possible Thursday night, followed by more December-like temperatures and maybe another period of precipitation over the holiday weekend.”
The Virginia Department of Transportation will suspend lane closures from noon Friday to noon Tuesday, and again from noon Friday, Dec. 30, to noon Tuesday, Jan. 3.
Traditional hot spots
You’re unlikely to encounter traffic that rivals the mass escapes on the Tuesday and Wednesday nights before Thanksgiving, but do watch for extra congestion through Friday night in these areas.
Capital Beltway between Van Dorn Street and Telegraph Road.
Interstate 66 near the Beltway.
Interstate 95 north and south between Occoquan and Springfield, and south from Dumfries to Fredericksburg; in the Richmond area, south from just north of the Interstate 295 junction; north from just north of I-295 to Doswell.
Interstate 64 near I-81, near I-95, near the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, near I-464.
Interstate 81 between Salem and Roanoke.
(Drivers, would you like to add to this list in the Comments field below?)
HOV lane schedules
VDOT says the I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
* Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday.
* Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Tuesday, when HOV-3 rules take effect
HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 will be lifted on Monday, a federal holiday.
The I-95/395 reversible lanes will be open to all traffic:
* Southbound from 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, until 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31.
* Northbound from 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 31, until 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, when HOV-3 rules will take effect.
* HOV restrictions on I-95, 395 and 66 will be lifted on Monday, Jan. 2, a federal holiday.
Even during the holiday weekends, when VDOT removes the temporary work zones and lane closings, drivers traveling into unfamiliar areas should still be alert for long-term work areas where the traffic pattern may have changed.
Amherst/Nelson county line: Be alert for a change in the traffic pattern on Route 29 at Tye River, where the northbound bridge is being replaced.
Interstate 81 truck-climbing lanes in Montgomery County, Va.: VDOT is building a southbound truck-climbing lane from mile marker 120 to 125.
Interstate 81 bridges at exit 45 over Scratch Gravel Road in Smyth County: Delays likely during work to replace portions of bridges over Scratch Gravel Road in Marion. Traffic restricted to one 14-foot travel lane in both directions.
Interstate 77/Interstate 81 overlap in Wythe County: Heavy traffic could slow or stop vehicles through this eight-mile section. Be alert to delays on northbound I-77 where it merges with I-81.
Virginia 511: For real-time traffic conditions or to view traffic cameras, go to VDOT’s travel information Web site, at www.511Virginia.org.
Travelers also can connect with the service by dialing 511 from any phone in Virginia. A mobile version of the 511Virginia Web site, designed for handheld devices, is available at mobile511virginia.org.
(Have a passenger work the phone, or pull over.)
Virginia 511 also has a very helpful Twitter account. Travelers can pick a particular one for a corridor that suits their needs by going to this page.
Coming up: Trips for driving through Maryland and beyond.