It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Take a look at Interstate 5 — and the planes and trains — with traffic pains and congested lanes aglow.
If you’re one of the 113 million Americans expected to travel in the coming days, it’s time to start preparing for what AAA is predicting will be the third-busiest holiday travel year since at least 2000.
To help plan holiday travel, the Washington State Department of Transportation has shared its annual holiday traffic guide on when roads are expected to be busiest.
WSDOT traffic charts and forecasts from Thursday through next Tuesday can be found at st.news/holidaytravel. WSDOT shared predictions for holiday traffic on Interstate 5 between Lacey and Tacoma, Interstate 90 between North Bend and Cle Elum and Highway 2 between Skykomish and Stevens Pass. These three routes historically see the most holiday traffic congestion and do not have alternative route options, according to WSDOT.
Travel times vary each year, but with snow predicted across the Seattle region, this week’s conditions could be especially dicey.
According to the National Weather Service, 6 to 8 inches of fresh snow was expected to fall in the Cascades early this week, and up to 2 feet of additional snowfall is expected later in the week.
Travelers should be aware that snow and wintry conditions may worsen travel times through the passes, or close sections of mountain passes due to collisions and spinouts.
“It takes just one reckless person driving too fast, under the influence or not following chain requirements to close a mountain pass for all of us,” said Jim Andersen, WSDOT’s winter program manager, in an online blog post.
There is no construction planned on most state roads between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26.
Road conditions and tire and chain requirements for mountain passes are available at st.news/passconditions. Text message alerts about significant delays on Snoqualmie Pass are available by texting the words “WSDOT Snoqualmie” to 468311.
Travelers can also expect longer wait times at ferry docks. With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays this year, the Friday and Saturday before each holiday are expected to be the busiest, according to WSDOT. Delays are possible in both directions on all routes.
Travelers should expect delays on westbound routes or routes to an island through Dec. 24, and eastbound or off-island routes on Dec. 25 and the following days, said Bryn Hunter, a communications representative at Washington State Ferries.
Customers can bypass vehicle lines by traveling as walk-on passengers. To check the best times to ride the ferries, visit st.news/ferrytraveltimes.
In Seattle, weekend toll rates will be in effect on Christmas Day on the Highway 520 bridge and Highway 99 tunnel. The Interstate 405 express toll lanes will be free and open to all drivers.
WSDOT and Amtrak are active on Twitter, and real-time updates are posted from these accounts:
- @wsdot — Statewide updates.
- @wsdot_traffic — Traffic and construction reports for King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
- @wsdot_sw — Traffic reports for Vancouver and Southwest Washington.
- @wsdot_passes — Mountain pass reports.
- @wsdot_tacoma — Traffic and construction reports for Pierce, Thurston, Mason and Kitsap counties.
- @snoqualmiepass — I-90 construction updates.
- @wsferries — Ferry alerts and updates.
- @wsdot_east — Traffic and highway news and information for east of the Cascades.
- @wsdot_north — Highway traffic information for Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties.
- @wsdot_520 — Highway 520 traffic information and construction updates.
- @Amtrak_Cascades — Information and updates regarding travel aboard Amtrak Cascades trains.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.