Thanksgiving Travel

Thanksgiving Travel: Best & Worst Times to Leave in the DC Area

Your 2021 Thanksgiving Travel Guide for DC, Maryland and Virginia

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Holiday travel is expected to be in full swing this year, nearing pre-pandemic levels. AAA predicts more than 53 million people will travel this Thanksgiving, the highest single-year increase in travel since the Great Recession.

Of course, more travelers means more traffic: AAA says that 90% of travelers will be hitting the road for Thanksgiving, so your best bet is to plan ahead and beat the holiday rush.

"Leave early in the morning on Wednesday," said AAA spokesman Andrew Gross. "If you wait until the afternoon, you're going to be sitting in that old-fashioned traffic jam. Or wait until after nine o'clock Wednesday night. It'll be a little quieter. And if you're just going to go visit family [who are] relatively close-by, that early morning Thanksgiving Day travel is always recommended if you're going by car."

The "go early" mantra holds true at airports, too. News4 Transportation Reporter Adam Tuss found gridlock leading out of Reagan National Airport's pickup zone on Tuesday evening.

Thanksgiving Travel in Virginia

In Virginia, the busiest travel day has historically been on Tuesday, with heavy traffic between noon and 8 p.m., and moderate congestion throughout the rest of the day, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said.

Heavy traffic is also likely on Wednesday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. both days, and moderate congestion on Saturday between those same hours, VDOT said.

VDOT has an interactive travel-trends map so you can check peak congestion periods on specific Virginia interstates. You can also download VDOT's free mobile 511 app to get information on construction, traffic and congestion.

The Thanksgiving travel rush is kicking into high gear, and some estimate traveling this year will look a lot like it did before the pandemic. Transportation Reporter Adam Tuss has been keeping an eye on the roads, rails and skies.

All HOV restrictions on Interstate 66 and rush-hour tolls on the I-66 Express Lanes inside the Capital Beltway will be lifted on Thanksgiving.

In addition, VDOT will suspend many highway work zones and lift most lane closures on interstates and other major roads between noon on Wednesday, Nov. 24 and noon on Monday, Nov. 29.

Thanksgiving Travel in Maryland

Drivers in Maryland should expect congestion between now and Sunday, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) said.

Before Thanksgiving, the busiest time on Maryland highways is expected to be Wednesday between noon and 6 p.m., particularly between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. After Thanksgiving, expect Saturday to be a busy travel day, with moderate traffic Sunday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., MDOT said.

Maryland's State Highway Administration (SHA) recommends driving during off-peak hours, such as Tuesday or Wednesday before 6 a.m. or after 11 p.m., and Thursday through Sunday before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

Those planning to cross the Bay Bridge should expect delays from Tuesday, Nov. 23 through Monday, Nov. 29, MDOT said. See the best times to travel, whether you're going east or west, online here.

Major lane closures for non-emergency roadwork will be suspended from Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 5 a.m. through Monday, Nov. 29 at 9 a.m.

You can sign up for traffic email/text alerts from MDOT online here. Stranded drivers can dial #77 on a mobile device for roadside assistance. 

News4's Melissa Mollet speaks with a travel agent for tips on planning family vacations as travel rebounds.

Your Thanksgiving Travel Weather Forecast

Wednesday and Thursday will be quiet weather days, said Storm Team4 Meteorologist Chuck Bell. Sunny skies will prevail for several hundred miles in any direction from D.C., providing easy travel weather. Afternoon highs will stay in the 40s, and overnight lows will be near freezing.

Our dry weather will last well into Thanksgiving Day, which could be our warmest day of the week with highs in the 50s. Clouds will increase throughout Thursday afternoon, leading to a rain chance late Thursday evening into early Friday morning.

Even that rain chance won't last long, and the sun should be back by Friday afternoon and the weekend.

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