Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. is virtually “Zero Hour” if you are traveling clockwise on the Capital Beltway when traffic speeds will be down to about 7 miles per hour (mph), as you crawl toward your Thanksgiving destination, according to projections by INRIX, in collaboration with AAA. Tuesday, the eve of Thanksgiving Eve, is also the absolute worst time to be caught on the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway, especially during the evening rush hour at 6:15 p.m. Here, travel delays will increase nearly 100 percent and travel speeds will drop to 23 miles per hour, as holiday travelers and commuters co-mingle and converge at one of the biggest bottlenecks in the Washington metro area.

Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday Nov. 21, is the worst day and time to travel for holiday travelers taking Interstate 95 North, Interstate 270 North, and U.S. 50 East, according to data from INRIX. There are 15 freeway segments to eschew. Knowing when and where congestion will build can help drivers avoid the stress of sitting in traffic. Then there are the hotspots to circumvent and circumnavigate during the getaway period.

Do everything in your power to avoid southbound I-95 around Fredericksburg, especially at US 17/US-1 at exit number 126 to Massaponax and Fredericksburg. Other hotspots and trouble spots include MD-295 N at I-195; I-95 S at VA 234/Exit 152; I-495 CW at MD-337/Allentown Road/Exit 9; and MS 295 N at MD-100.  Given the number of persons heading home for the holidays from the Washington Metro area, Virginia and Maryland, congestion and delays will swell on freeways and expressways throughout the region. What else can we expect when 1,206,100 area residents are heading for the exits almost at the same time?

“With 1.2 million Washington area residents hitting the highways for the holiday, travel delays will become a contagion on area freeways and highways on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving Eve, as virtually everyone experiences a significant increase in travel times and traffic congestion,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Holiday traffic, and any poor soul caught up in it, will creep, crawl and slither along. Given this, holiday travelers will be forced to add ‘extra buffer time’ to their trips to reach their Thanksgiving destinations on time.”

        Worst Days and Worst Times for Washington Metro Area Thanksgiving Travelers

Name

Peak Date

Peak Time

% Delay

Speed (MPH)

I95 N

11/21/2018

1:15 PM

72%

25

Capital Beltway Counter clockwise

11/20/2018

6:15 PM

97%

22.7

Capital Beltway Clockwise

11/20/2018

5:30 PM

137%

7.2

I270 N

11/21/2018

2:15 PM

164%

25.3

US50 E

11/21/2018

4:15 PM

87%

31.1

If you think “Terrible Traffic Tuesday” only occurs on the day after Labor Day in the Washington Metro area, you better think again, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. It is axiomatic: “highway congestion occurs as a result of too many users trying to share a common roadway segment at the same time.” It will reach its zenith throughout Thanksgiving week. INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, is also forecasting when Thanksgiving holiday travelers will experience the greatest amount of congestion, as commuters mix with holiday travelers. The delays will skyrocket during the height of rush hour.

Commuters and holiday travelers will experience a 164 percent increase in travel delays along Interstate 270 North early Wednesday afternoon, beginning as early as 2:15 p.m. Travel speed will decrease to 25 mph on I-270 in Maryland from the Capital Beltway (I-495) to I-70.

Motorists along U.S. 50 Eastbound will experience an 87 percent increase in travel delays, as highway speeds decrease to 31 miles per hour. More than 465,000 vehicles will cross the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge (US 50/301) in both directions during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, estimates the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA). Travelers taking Interstate 95 in Virginia and Maryland will see increases huge increase in travel delays. That is especially true along I-95 North, Wednesday afternoon beginning at 1:15 p.m. Travel delays will increase 72 percent as highway speeds drop to 25 mph.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the cosmic scheme of things, 3.9 million persons residing in Virginia, Maryland and the Washington metro area will travel more than 50 miles during the Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, nearly 3.6 million residents will embark on Thanksgiving road trips. The tally includes 1,352,515 persons in Virginia and over one million persons residing in Maryland. It is proof positive that the Thanksgiving holiday period is one of the busiest long-distance-travel periods of the year.

“The average Thanksgiving long-distance trip length is 214 miles, compared with 275 miles over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday,” according to historical data by the  U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. All told, two out of every 10 residents of the Washington metro area, which boasted a 2017 populace that is 6,216,589 strong, will travel more than 50 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. They will be part and parcel of pilgrimage of 54.3 million folks heading home for the holiday nationwide.

Top 15 Thanksgiving Traffic Hotspots in the Metro Area

Rank

Hotspot

Direction

I-95 S at US-17/US-1/Exit 126

SOUTHBOUND

MD-295 N at I-195

NORTHBOUND

I-95 S at VA-234/Exit 152

SOUTHBOUND

I-495 CW at MD-337/ALLENTOWN RD/Exit 9

CLOCKWISE

MD-295 N at MD-100

NORTHBOUND

I-270 N at MD-85/Exit 31

NORTHBOUND

I-270 N at MD-80/Exit 26

NORTHBOUND

I-95 N at MD-100/Exit 43

NORTHBOUND

I-95 N at VA-123/Exit 160

NORTHBOUND

10 

I-495 CW at MD-414/ST BARNABAS RD/Exit 4

CLOCKWISE

11 

I-495 CW at AMERICAN LEGION BRIDGE

CLOCKWISE

12 

I-495 CCW at GREENBELT METRO DR/Exit 24

COUNTERCLOCKWISE

13 

DC-295 N at EASTERN AVE

NORTHBOUND

14 

I-495 CW at MD-4/PENNSYLVANIA AVE/Exit 11

CLOCKWISE

15 

I-495 CCW at US-50/Exit 19

COUNTERCLOCKWISE

If the aphorism is true that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions,” then so are the hotspots to your holiday destinations. INRIX is also forecasting the top 15 hotspots for the Thanksgiving getaway. It ranks the most congested segments and the major bottlenecks for freeways and expressways during the holiday getaway period. The list includes various and sundry exits along northbound and southbound I-95/I-495 (Capital Beltway), Topping the list is I-95 S at US 17/US-1/Exit 126. This underscores the fact that “routes to/from Northern Virginia are likely to be congested mid-morning to evening on Tuesday as well as on Saturday,” warns the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). Things won’t be much better along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (Maryland 295 North) to Interstate 195, which “provides a high speed route to the passenger terminal at the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).”

Then there is the matter of Interstate 95 south in Northern Virginia at Exit 152 to Manassas and Dumfries. Think that’s a terrible bottleneck? Consider if you will, the gridlock mounting on the Capital Beltway (1-95/495) near Joint Base Andrews at Exit 9 –Allentown Road (MD 337). Imagine this: between 198,811 and 212,250 drivers travel through this stretch of the Capital Beltway each workday. 

Another top Thanksgiving “turkey trot” hot-spot is Maryland 295 North, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, at Maryland  Route 100 (MD 100) in Anne Arundel County. It ranks fifth on the top 15 list of holiday getaway hotspots. Approximately 104,600 vehicles per day use this section of MD 295, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration. All told, the MDTA expects more than 3.4 million travelers on its highways, bridges, and tunnels during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

Occupying the 15th place on the hotspot list is yet another exit on the Capital Beltway. It is Exit 19 at I-95/495/US 50 (John Hanson Highway) from Washington, D.C. to Annapolis and vice versa. Here is the upshot: Thanksgiving travelers hailing from the Washington metro area may be stuck in traffic as much as two and a half times longer than on normal days. A case in point: on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway the Tuesday before Thanksgiving from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Through-travelers along the I-95 Corridor account for ‘30 to 40 percent of Beltway traffic each day.’ Their numbers will swell that day and during those hours. That’s bad news, as area residents heading home from work and school converge with holiday travelers heading out of town and holiday road-trippers, as delays and congestion peak. Collectively, Washington area residents and motorists will once again experience the hell that is Washington metro area holiday travel traffic.

Travel delays will surge by a factor of two along the metro area’s top ten traffic hotspots during the holiday getaway, explains INRIX. In most cases, the best days to travel will be on Thanksgiving Day, Friday or Saturday, notes AAA. Drivers should expect increased travel times on Sunday as most holiday travelers will be making their way home after the long weekend. Drivers in San Francisco, New York City and Boston will see the largest delays – nearly quadruple normal drive times. “Thanksgiving is one of the busiest holidays for road trips, and this year will be no different,” says Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Our advice to drivers is to avoid commuting times in major cities altogether or plan alternative routes.”

“No matter the stony road they trod or the route they rove, it behooves holiday travelers to travel during off-peak hours to avoid significant delays, to plan ahead, to stay alert, and to avoid distractions,” said Townsend. “Historically, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday after the holiday, were the worst days to travel during the busy holiday period. Now it is shifting, as everyone tries to get a head-start on the holiday, and a jump on millions of other holiday travelers heading for the exits. While the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is still the busiest day to fly, Tuesday is now the worst day and time to hit the highways for the holiday.” Do everything in your heart, soul, strength and mind to arrive alive to your destinations.