More than 1 million Washington-area residents are planning to travel for the Fourth of July holiday Wednesday, which means Tuesday could bring gridlock as they hit the region’s roads.
“With a record-level number of travelers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays,” said Scott Sedlik of the transportation data firm INRIX. “Although travel times are expected to nominally increase throughout the week, Tuesday afternoon will, hands down, be the worst time to be on the road. Our advice to drivers is to avoid peak commuting hours altogether or consider alternative routes.”
Nationwide, AAA projects that nearly 47 million people will be on the road or on an airplane, up more than 5 percent compared with last year and the highest number since AAA began tracking holiday travel 18 years ago. Nearly 40 million people plan to get to their destination by car.
In the Washington region, the majority — slightly more than a million of those — say they plan to drive. Nearly 90,000 people are expected to fly. In addition, 65,000 will go by bus, train or boat, AAA said.
The worst time to be on the road in the Washington region is likely to be 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, when commuters leave work early to start the holiday and mix in with holiday travelers. Transportation officials and experts are urging motorists to travel during off-peak hours, have alternative routes and be patient.
“Some roads will be particularly more delayed than others,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. For example, trips on the Capital Beltway about 11:30 a.m. Monday could take nearly four times a normal trip, he said. “That means a trip that would normally take 10 minutes would equate to 51 minutes, a delay of 41 additional minutes.”
The busiest roadways will be the usual: Interstates 95 and 66 and Routes 301 and 50 going to the Bay Bridge.
Because July 4 falls on Wednesday, some people are making this a long five- or six-day weekend, and the roads will stay busy practically all week. Plus, consider that big crowds are coming to the region for the Independence Day celebrations in the nation’s capital.
The Maryland Transportation Authority anticipates heavy traffic on the Bay Bridge. For those going to the Eastern Shore, the authority says the best times to travel will be very early in the morning and very late at night. The Maryland State Highway Administration said it is lifting construction-related lane closures starting Tuesday until Thursday night.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said it is lifting HOV restrictions on interstates 66 and 395 on Wednesday. Normal HOV restrictions will be in place the rest of the week.
To limit sitting in traffic too long, transportation officials recommend starting road trips during off-peak times. For example, if you’re planning to travel Tuesday, leave before 8 a.m. or after 10 p.m., they say. The best hours Friday are before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m. On Saturday, start your trip before 7 a.m. or after 5 p.m.