WASHINGTON — If you've lived in western Washington long, you know the drill: a holiday weekend rolls around and all of a sudden the traffic is even worse than usual. The Washington State Department of Transportation is predicting lots of traffic backups this Labor Day weekend. Luckily, they're also offering a few tips (including some useful traffic data charts from past Labor Days) to help extra-prepared drivers skip the mess, and get the most out of their long weekend.
Here is some of their expert advice:
WSDOT will post updates on their mobile app, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, warning drivers where crashes or other issues have caused heavy congestion. Drivers can also call the 511 travel information hotline for guidance, or tune into their radio broadcasts on 530 AM and 1610 AM for highway alerts.
Also: pack extra water, snacks and other emergency supplies just in case you get delayed on the way.
Know when and where traffic is expected to back up
A little later in this article, we'll be showing off some of WSDOT's traffic data charts, which use driver data from past Labor Days to predict when and where the traffic will be worst this weekend. But generally, a rule of thumb is that traffic will be heavier in the early afternoon on popular freeways, and especially thick over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90, so if you're planning on taking a well-traveled route, consider driving on off hours, or finding alternate routes for shorter trips.
Some tolls will be in effect, others wont
Weekend toll rates will be in effect on Monday for the State Route 520 bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, but the I0495 express toll lanes will be totally free to travelers on Monday. Information on all tolls and payments can be found on WSDOT's Good To Go! webpage.
Ferries will be busy
Ferries have already been on a slower schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic, and even before the pandemic wait times could last multiple hours at some of the more popular routes. WSDOT says to double-check sailing schedules and remember that face masks are required for all walk-onn passengers. Meanwhile, passengers in cars will also be asked to remain in their vehicles for the duration of the ferry, to help with physical distancing efforts.
Live updates on terminal conditions should also be checked before venturing out.
Where the traffic will be worst
WSDOT says they expect extreme traffic on the US 2 from Skykomish to Stevens Pass, I-90 from North Bend to Cle Elum, and on I-5 from Olympia to Tacoma. Traffic would also normally be pretty bad at the border with Canada, but the border has been closed for the pandemic.
As a general rule of thumb, traffic will be at its worst heading away from Seattle on Friday and Saturday, and returning towards Seattle Sunday and Monday. Big backups can start as early as 9 or 10 a.m. and last through 8 p.m., so travelling very early or very late is recommended to avoid the rush.
Here's a look at some of the worst traffic backups from earlier years:
For even more of these travel charts, you can visit WSDOT's website here.