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Here are the best and worst times to drive this Thanksgiving week

Almost 49 million people are forecast to drive, generating a wave of traffic in cities across the country

Heavy traffic moves along Interstate 395 on Tuesday in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Almost 49 million people are expected to take road trips this week through Sunday, according to forecasts from traffic data firm INRIX. And not surprisingly, that means there’s potential for some soul-crushing traffic.

In the Washington area, INRIX expects the worst place and time to be on the road will be Sunday between 11:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. heading counterclockwise on the northwestern quadrant of the Beltway between Interstate 95 and Virginia’s Route 123 in Tysons. Traffic is forecast to be almost double normal volumes.

Generally, INRIX and auto club AAA recommend hitting the road early or waiting until the evening hours before driving.

“Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the holiday weekend,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a statement.

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Those traveling Wednesday should have left during the morning or wait until after 8 p.m., according to the forecast. On Thursday, the busiest period is expected to be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., while roads should be quieter after 6 p.m.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the busiest times are expected to be between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Drivers who can get out before 11 a.m. (or before 2 p.m. on Saturday) stand the best chance of a smooth trip. Otherwise, wait until after 8 p.m.

INRIX expects peak traffic in metro areas across the country. Washington, with the wave of cars cresting on Sunday afternoon, is an outlier. In most big cities, the company expects Wednesday afternoon to be the busiest.

The highway the company identified as likely to be the most traffic-choked is a section of New York’s notorious Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, where traffic volumes are expected to be more than 2½ times normal throughout Wednesday afternoon.

Road travel dipped in the pandemic’s early months in 2020 but rebounded much more quickly than other modes of transportation. The number of people driving this Thanksgiving will rival 2019, according to AAA. But while the number of people traveling will be similar, INRIX says the time of day people get on the road has shifted from early mornings and early evenings to the middle of the day.

In 2019, the company said most travelers set out between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., but this year, they expect the busiest window to be between 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Average gas prices are $3.70 per gallon, 29 percent higher than last year, AAA said. But that doesn’t appear to be deterring drivers.

“Despite increased costs across the board, people are making plans and finding ways to spend time with family and friends,” said Ragina Ali, a spokeswoman for AAA’s Maryland branch.

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