Thanksgiving traffic in and around the Washington, D.C., area will be the worst on the Wednesday before the holiday and during the following Sunday, when delays on area roadways will be a whopping 300% to 500% worse than usual.
That’s according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, which says traffic will start building as soon as today, Tuesday, Nov. 26, said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, in a news release.
“The big exodus is on. With each passing day, the Thanksgiving holiday-related traffic backups and traffic delays will become progressively worse along freeways and major corridors across the Washington metropolitan area,” Townsend said.
More than 3.6 million residents of Virginia, Maryland and the Washington metro area will embark on Thanksgiving road trips, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The worst of the worst travel delays on area freeways will happen on Thanksgiving Eve, when 1.35 million people – including 1.2 million Washington, D.C., area residents -- are expected to travel to their destinations by vehicle.
That’s an increase of 2.1% from the 1,195,500 area residents who traveled by automobile over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2018, Townsend said.
The Wednesday before and Sunday after Thanksgiving are the worst days and times to travel, according to an analysis by AAA and INRIX, a traffic research firm.
“Commuters caught up in the mix on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway around 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve will have hell to pay,” Townsend said in a news release.
They will experience and encounter travel peaks nearly 500% longer than normal delays on that stretch of roadway, according to INRIX projections.
Along the Outer Loop of the Capital Beltway, starting at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday, travel delays are expected to increase 225%, Townsend said.
Backups and bottlenecks will crop up along Interstate 95 South on Thanksgiving Eve beginning at 3:30 p.m. as holiday travelers and local commuters encounter delays 224% longer than normal. That compares to delays that swell to 111% longer than normal on I-95 north beginning at 3:30 Wednesday afternoon, Townsend said.
The picture won’t be pretty along Interstate 270 in either direction on the day before Thanksgiving.
“Expect absolute gridlock Wednesday afternoon from Maryland 190 to the Interstate 270 Spur to points west,” Townsend said.
Segments of I-270 racked up traffic counts of 265,633 vehicles on any given day of the year during 2018. Come Wednesday afternoon, travel delays will increase 205% on I-270 North, starting at 4:15 p.m.
Holiday travelers are encouraged to travel during off-peak times – early morning and/or later in the evening. But the morning holiday getaway traffic will peak 122% on I-270 South, beginning as early as 6:15 a.m.
Holiday travelers and daily commuters will cross paths throughout the busy travel week, however. For example, long-distance trekkers and local holiday traffic alike can expect peak congestion on Tuesday along I-95 and I-66 in Northern Virginia from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., based on traffic data at the Virginia Department of Transportation.
On Tuesday, heavy congestion will also happen on I-95 north between Richmond and Fredericksburg from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The same is true on Tuesday for I-66 west between I-495 and Route 234/Prince William Parkway from 1 to 5 p.m., VDOT says.
The traffic will continue even on Thanksgiving Day, as travelers try to beat the crowds to the Thanksgiving table and will be most heavy between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. along I-95 south around Fredericksburg, VDOT notes.
Black Friday traffic congestion will likely be the worst from about noon to 6:30 p.m. on I-95 north in Northern Virginia, according to VDOT.
The best day to drive anywhere for Thanksgiving was actually yesterday – Monday, Nov. 25.