- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2014

Before sitting down to turkey dinner on Thanksgiving comes another long held tradition — braving the holiday traffic.

The number of D.C.-area residents traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday is expected to be up 3 percent this year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. That means an estimated 1.1 million people in the region will take to the roads, skies and rails this week.

The majority of area residents, about 90 percent, plan to travel by car — meaning the timing of the holiday departure will be key to those looking to avoid the traffic jams.

Luckily, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board has a report pointing to the times area roadways tend to see the most congestion.

The board’s analysis of 2012 traffic patterns around Thanksgiving found holiday-related traffic impacts area roadways “as early as the Sunday before Thanksgiving and as late as Monday after the holiday.” However, the worst traffic delays came during the evening rush hour the Tuesday before the holiday.

During the time of the study, analysts said the average speed that vehicles traveled dropped to its lowest point of the week from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. During that hour, vehicles traveled 20 mph below the “free-flow” expected without any traffic congestion. For comparison’s sake, analysts said that’s about twice as bad as the traffic expected during a typical Tuesday commute.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, traffic speeds didn’t drop as low, but slowdowns started much earlier in the day — beginning at 11 a.m.

Across the county, AAA Travel predicts that 46.3 million people will travel 50 miles or more away from home over the Thanksgiving holiday — up 4 percent from last year.

AAA Mid-Atlantic director Lon Anderson said the uptick in travel locally may be in part due to the decrease in gas prices.

“We’re experiencing the lowest gas prices since December 2010, prompting more people to hit the road this Thanksgiving,” Mr. Anderson said.

Gas prices dipped below $3 per gallon in the D.C. region last month and have remained around that threshold.

Meanwhile, airports are also bracing for the holiday crowds.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority estimates that from Nov. 21 through Dec. 1, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will see as many as 1.5 million passengers.

Officials advise arriving two hours ahead of scheduled domestic flights and three hours ahead of international flights to compensate for the crowds.

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