WASHINGTON, D. C. (Friday July 6, 2018) –– Like the stately flight of Cliff Swallows with “easy grace” to Mission San Juan Capistrano, Washington area residents are flocking home in droves from their Fourth of July holiday jaunts that took them 50 miles or more away from here. With six out of ten office workers also taking time off on both the Thursday and Friday after Independence Day, there is still no exact science for the timing of return trips to everyday life and the workaday world after the holiday travel period. It all depends on your schedule, the distance traveled, the number of returning vehicles per hour on a road section, and whether you only took the Fourth of July off, or stretched the holiday into a five-day weekend.
All told, 46.9 million Americans are traveling 50 miles or more away from home during the Fourth of July, including 1,162,100 persons living in and around the nation’s capital. As always, most of those long-distance trips were personal vehicle trips. Even so, some 39.7 million Americans, including 1,009,700 Washington area residents, are making the excursion via highways and byways. In their departures, they faced the worst getaway congestion, Tuesday afternoon, July 3rd. For those flying to their holiday destinations, “the Friday before the Independence Day holiday was the second busiest day in the history of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).” The car is still “monarch of all it surveys” when it comes to holiday travel.
You can count on it. There will be major congestion in most metropolitan areas on the return trip, including the Washington metro area. While Tuesday was the busiest travel day of the holiday period, return travel patterns will likely be more diffused and spread throughout the Thursday through Sunday travel- period, especially along major routes and exit ramps on U.S. Route 50, Interstate 270, Interstate 95, and along the Inner Loop and Outer Loop of Interstate 495 (the Capital Beltway). Returning Fourth of July holiday travelers and wayfarers could encounter traffic oscillations on area freeways and on-ramps this weekend.
What time is the pits for the Post-Fourth of July return trip along area freeways? “Eh’nt!” It will be at its heaviest and at its busiest on area interstates on Friday, most likely from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Then, at varied times this weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of holiday trippers navigate their way home. That includes along the southbound lanes of I-395, the southbound lanes and northbound lanes of Interstate 95, and along Interstate 66. The king of hot spots is I-95 S at Exit 133 A to the Fairfax County Parkway. Other return trip hot spots include the Southeast Freeway and Key Bridge. Sunday will be an especially busy travel time on the Bay Bridge as Washingtonians return from Maryland and Delaware beaches.
“Like Christmas, the Fourth of July always occurs on different days of the week, and as a result, travel patterns will vary depending upon, of course, the day or days after the holiday,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public & Government Affairs. “Since July Fourth was on a Wednesday this year, many Washington took the remainder of the week off. After all, they have plenty of vacation days to burn. Some of us didn’t take any extra vacation. Yet many vacationers hailing from the area will return as the holiday weekend comes to an end. Compounding matters, we are already experiencing a noticeable increase in temporal traffic volume on Saturdays and Sundays on freeways in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.”
“Hit the road, Jack!” Today, Friday, July 6, is the biggest return day on two major freeways in Atlanta, Georgia, with delays increasing 50 percent and 150 percent on certain freeways. From coast to coast, some freeways will see a surge in return traffic today, Friday, particularly in and around Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, forewarns INRIX. Many vacationers from the Washington metro area will head homewards at a more leisurely pace. That means some area freeways and roads will be markedly more delayed than others over this weekend. The timing of the return trip also depends upon whether the traveler is venturing between 50 to 99 miles, or wayfaring at least 100 miles or more away, notes AAA.
It is as if returning Washington area residents are singing “Oh when the saints go marching in. Oh Lord, I want to be in that number.” Though they will have plenty of company, no one really wants to be in heavy traffic. Holiday travelers are averse to major bottlenecks on the way home. With their “hearts turned homeward,” they are weighing the best and worst day-of-week and the hour-of-day to arrive back home. They are wondering if the weekend, or a weekday, is a favorable time. No matter what they decide, a million of their neighbors will have the same plans, dreams, schemes and means for traversing the back roads and shortcuts.
To avoid long waits, the best times to return from the Eastern Shore via the Bay Bridge and the Severn River Bridge this weekend include: before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., Friday, July 6; before 7 a.m. and after 5 p.m., Saturday, July 7; and before 10 a.m. and after 10 p.m., this Sunday, July 8. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is also sounding a clarion call to those heading home. Late night returning travelers will encounter “overnight lane closures on eastbound I-66 between Sudley Road (Route 234 Business) and Route 29 in Centreville, July 6 and Saturday, July 7 between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.,” VDOT has announced.
So, what are the worse return days in and around Washington, D.C.? For example, July the Fourth fell on a Saturday during 2015. The biggest return day was the following day, Sunday, that year. Traffic jams increased “63 percent for the trip home on Sunday,” with the Sunday rush hour “occurring between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.” However, travel delays on the return trip to the Washington metro area occurred on Sunday night in 2015, with the busiest times cropping up from 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., to the chagrin of excursionists, notes Waze. Last year, when the Fourth of July fell on Tuesday, some workers stretched it into a four-day weekend. But the return trip on Wednesday, July 5, involved a 25 percent increase in travel times in and around major metropolitan areas across the country. An exception was Chicago, where the “Wednesday return trips” along many routes were “largely congestion-free.” A year ago, return trips for the Fourth of July were heaviest on Friday afternoon for auto travelers and holidaymakers heading in and out of Philadelphia.
Talk about “abnormal traffic activity” after the Fourth of July, the last time it fell in the middle of the workweek, a Wednesday, was in 2012. But that doesn’t mean everyone decided to make a long weekend of it. “For companies that give only the 4th off, the holiday doesn’t actually create a break longer than two days,” observed The Atlantic. “Among those who aren’t taking any extra vacation, this makes getting away for the weekend impossible.” What about this time around? In fact, “Half of business professionals plan to take time off around Independence Day.” That is according to an Office Pulse survey of more than 350 workers. “Most people are planning to extend their time off after the 4th, inundating managers by the volume of requests.”
Curiously, the Office Pulse survey also found23% of Millennials say they resent their employer for their treatment of vacation time during the week of the 4th of July. 23% of Millennials say they resent their employer for their treatment of vacation time during the week of the 4th of July., “23% of Millennials say they resent their employer for their treatment of vacation time during the week of the 4th of July.” Moreover, “one out of five managers says they are overwhelmed by the amount of vacation requests for the week of July 4th,” according to a survey by Office Pulse. Its research also shows, 63 percent of employees surveyed said they were taking the Thursday after the Fourth of July off, and 61 percent of workers indicated they were also taking Friday off too.
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