[This post has been updated. Last update: 4:55 p.m.]
The Thanksgiving exodus picked up steam on Wednesday afternoon, with major roadways slowing to a crawl as travelers began embarking on their holiday getaways.
While many people already left town Monday or Tuesday, the day before Thanksgiving remains the busiest period for people departing the Washington area. AAA is anticipating more travelers during this Thanksgiving period than we saw last year, with Wednesday and Sunday being the peak travel days.
What are you seeing? Crowded roads? Busy airport terminals? Tweet your experiences to @drgridlock.
Here’s what travelers are saying so far:
Officials reported calm conditions at the region’s three airports in the morning and into the afternoon, with no real crowding or waits reported at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall, Reagan National or Dulles International.
The main headache for early morning air travelers stemmed from weather in the Windy City. Fog in the Chicago area created major delays at O’Hare and Midway international airports in the morning.
More than 100 flights at O’Hare were canceled, though not all due to the weather, according to Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. She said the fog had largely dissipated by early Wednesday afternoon.
Still, those problems hadn’t had much of an effect on flights in or out of Washington, officials said.
Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Dulles and National airports, said there were no major delays to speak of at either of those airports.
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for BWI, also reported good conditions at Baltimore. He said the Chicago-related problems appeared to have abated by the early afternoon.
One headache for travelers: A JetBlue flight from Boston had a small fire upon landing at BWI shortly before 11:30 a.m. There were no injuries and the incident did not cause any other delays, Dean said.
Parking remained available at all three airports by 3:40 p.m. The economy lot at National had filled up shortly after 3:30 p.m. Yingling warned that once it reached capacity, it would likely remain full through the rest of the weekend.
On the region’s roads, congestion significantly increased in Virginia and Maryland as the day continued. Relatively calm conditions in the morning gave way to crowding as travelers began hopping into their cars in the early afternoon.
Southbound Interstate 95 is now very crowded from the Springfield Interchange on through to Fredericksburg, with severe delays creating headaches all along that stretch.
Jennifer McCord, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, warned drivers that once I-95 South became crowded, it would likely remain that way through the end of the evening.
Southbound Interstate 395 is also jammed up from Seminary Road on through to the Springfield Interchange as travelers fleeing the District head toward the Beltway and I-95.
The Capital Beltway is also a problem, with inner loop congestion from Interstate 66 on up to the American Legion Bridge and beyond. The Beltway is very backed up near the American Legion Bridge, the I-270 Spur and the I-95 Split in College Park.
Drivers need to be prepared for crowds and delays when they head out Wednesday afternoon, McCord said. If possible, try to take an alternate route to avoid the major roadways.
“I know everybody’s looking for the perfect time to leave, but it’s really important to be patient, because the trip’s probably going to take longer than it usually does,” she said.
Virginia lifted work zone-related lane closures at noon and is keeping them lifted through the weekend, McCord said. The HOV restrictions do remain in place on Wednesday, will be lifted on Thursday and will resume on Friday.
Maryland’s roadways had a quiet start to the day, but major delays are now slowing traffic there as well. Northbound lanes are very congested on Interstate 95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Drivers seeking alternate routes like the northbound Columbia Pike/U.S. 29 are encountering similar delays around Sandy Spring Road.
Eastbound U.S. 50 is severely slowing down near Annapolis. Northbound Interstate 270 is also slow around Germantown and Clarksburg.