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Best Time to Leave: Your Holiday Travel Forecast

If you're planning on travelling for Christmas, we have the travel forecast you need so you can spend less time in the car and more time with family.

The worst traffic was predicted for Thursday afternoon, so you may have missed the "terrible traffic trifecta" predicted by AAA.

When's the Best Time to Travel?

AAA says more than 107 million people will take planes, trains, cars and other modes of transport between Dec. 23 and New Year's Day. If you were stuck in traffic last year, be prepared: millions more revelers will be on the road this year. It may be the busiest holiday travel year ever recorded, transportation firm INRIX says.

How will the majority of these travelers be getting around? By car.

Thursday was expected to be the most congested travel day in the Washington, D.C. area, according to INRIX.

Maryland authorities predict heavy traffic Friday, and will suspend any non-emergency lane closures between Friday and Tuesday, Dec. 26.


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Saturday afternoon and evening, the Virginia Department of Transportation predicts heavy congestion in Virginia, especially along Interstate 95. Combined with rain lasting most of the afternoon and evening, it might make for a messy drive.

You may also encounter heavy traffic Tuesday, Dec. 26 as the post-Christmas crowd heads out after the holiday.

HOV restrictions on I-66 will be lifted on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, but dynamic toll pricing will be in effect at other times. Make sure you have an E-Z Pass to travel during tolling hours, and solo drivers should prepare to pay a sometimes hefty toll.

AAA predicts major slowdowns on a number of areas: the Capital Beltway near Adelphi, Glen Echo, Montgomery County (especially near Bethesda) and Springfield, Virginia; I-66 west; I-270; and I-95 in Virginia and Maryland.

A small section of Route 50 east of Route 15 in Gilberts Corner will be closed in both directions Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Obviously, you're going to want to drive during off-peak hours and on less congested roads. But when and where are those?

Traveling on Christmas Day may help you avoid the worst traffic woes -- but rain is likely, so drive safely.

Predictive data from Google suggests traffic thins out by 10 p.m. The Maryland Department of Transportation said over the Thanksgiving holiday that off-peak hours typically begin before 6 a.m. and end after 11 p.m.

In Maryland, your best bet is to choose US-301 over the Beltway, and the BW Parkway over 1-95, according to predictive data from Google.

Travelers in Virginia should consider using Route 1 instead of Interstate 95, the same data suggests.

VDOT also has an interactive map showing the expected congestion levels for I-95 and Northern Virginia between Saturday and Tuesday, based on travel trends of the past few years.

Transportation officials in both states are lifting construction-related lane closures throughout the holiday to help drivers travel more easily.

10 More Travel Tips:

1. Still don't have an E-ZPass? Get one. You'll save a significant amount of time. The transponders are available at a few retail locations. Visit EZPassMD.com or EZPassVA.com to see where you can get one in person.

2. If you have an E-ZPass, make sure your info's up to date. Go to your state's E-Zpass site to verify that your credit card, license plate number and contact information are all current.

3. Don't have roadside assistance? Get it. Make a quick call to sign up for it through your car insurance company, or go online to register with AAA. You'll have help if the unexpected happens, both to keep you safe and to save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

4. Make sure your car is ready for the trip. Consumer Reports has a quick checklist you can run through, including making sure all your lights are working, your washer fluid is filled and your tire pressure is good. See the full list here.

5. Don't text and drive... or look at directions and drive... or flip through your play list and drive. In Maryland, it's illegal to text while driving. Texting while driving is also illegal in Virginia. Designate your front-seat passenger to be in charge of your phone, the play list and the directions.

6. Take a safety break. You might be tempted to make as few stops as possible, but don't drive for so long that you become a danger to yourself or others. A break at a rest stop will refresh you or let you exchange driving duties with a travel buddy.

7. But plan ahead to avoid unnecessary stops. If you have small kids, you're probably used to packing water and snacks. But even if your car is adults-only this Thanksgiving, it's always a good idea to bring along the basics. You'll also save money and probably end up with healthier options than what you'd get at a rest stop.

8. It gets darker earlier during the fall and winter seasons. Look out for pedestrians with the lack of daylight.

9. MDTA reports that the risk of deer and vehicle collisions is greatest during fall and early winter. Two-thirds of these crashes occur in October, November and December. Be extra cautious of the critters.

10. On your journey, watch for patches of wet leaves. They can create slippery driving conditions.

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