With Seattle-area traffic twice as bad as it is on normal days, and many people expected to start their summer season with a Memorial Day trip, travelers should plan for rough traffic this holiday weekend.
Despite rising gas prices, AAA recently projected that about 43 million Americans will travel this weekend, an increase of 3.5% compared to last year. Of those, the vast majority will drive, according to AAA’s report.
“Americans are eagerly anticipating the start of summer, and expensive gas prices won’t keep them home this Memorial Day weekend,” Paula Twidale, vice president at AAA Travel, said in a statement. “Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth. Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day.”
The summer travel forecast, which attempts to predict how many people will travel during the holiday and when, was released by AAA, an automobile advocacy group, and INRIX, a traffic data-analysis organization.
Travelers should anticipate delays starting on Wednesday and continuing through the three-day weekend, with the most road congestion during late afternoon Thursday and Friday as commuters leave work early and mix with holiday travelers, the report advises.
In the Puget Sound, the worst is expected on Monday afternoon between 3 and 6 p.m., when people are coming home, according to the study.
While that’s not exactly surprising for a holiday weekend, what is interesting is how much worse your expected travel times could be. Though many metro areas will experience traffic that is three times worse than usual, our traffic is expected to be only twice as bad as typical.
“State highways across Washington will see typical heavy holiday weekend traffic, especially on Interstate 90, where lengthy delays are expected,” according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), and “longer-than typical wait times at ferry docks and Canadian border crossings are also expected most of the holiday weekend.”
WSDOT is warning that waits for eastbound ferry routes on Monday afternoon could be several hours long.
Ferries headed out of Seattle on Thursday and Friday, and routes headed back to Seattle on Monday, are expected to be most affected by the holiday, according to WSDOT. If you must travel by ferry on those days, give yourself plenty of time, and try building a fun activity into your wait time so you’re not sitting around bored.
Drivers traveling over the mountain passes can also expect to see heavy congestion.
If you’re headed to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, you’ll be joining nearly half a million passengers expected to travel this weekend.
With that in mind, the Port of Seattle released the following holiday travel tips:
- Avoid lines at kiosks: Check in for your flights and print your boarding passes before arriving at the airport.
- Get there early: Arrive at least two hours ahead of a domestic flight and three hours for an international flight.
- Don’t drive yourself to the airport: Use light rail, public transit, taxis, airport shuttles or ride-share vehicles to get there. “Public transportation is by far the best option if you want to stay out of a traffic jam,” according to the Port.
- Think about what you pack for faster screening. For example, the Port says, large food items may trigger additional screening.
- Avoid the arrivals and departure lanes, if possible. If you must drive, know that peak traffic congestion occurs on the departure level from about 4:30 to 7:30 a.m. Both departures and arrivals back up during the middle of the day between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The arrivals area experiences heavy traffic from about 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
- If you’re someone’s ride to or from the airport, think opposite. In the morning, drop off passengers on the arrivals level. In the evenings, arrange to meet your passengers on the departures level. Going opposite gets you out of the traffic crunch. Also, arriving passengers who didn’t check bags don’t have to go to the baggage-claim area, meaning they are on the departures level when they exit and are easy to pick up.
- Sign up for Trusted Traveler programs such as TSA Precheck, Global Entry or CLEAR to get through security lines faster. These expedited security programs help for both domestic and international travel, including a faster way through customs with Automated Passport Control and Mobile Passport Control.
- Use apps. The new Sea-Tac Airport app lets you watch security-checkpoint wait times, search for flight information, find yourself on the terminal map and look for restaurants, lounges or the meditation room. Sign up for text alerts by texting “Update” to 206-347-8045.