Fourth of July holiday travel

Jul 01, 2010

The number of people who say they plan to travel from the Washington region over the coming holiday weekend is 18.4 percent higher than last year but still below pre-recession levels.

Let's start by saying, "Happy Holiday" to you. This Fourth of July holiday travel will increase as the nation celebrates its birthday and the independence and freedom that we enjoy and treasure.

I am here to answer your questions and to chat with you about your travel plans to the holiday. Keep in mind,  Fourth of July travel is generally more difficult to predict as Americans' travel plans are often made or broken at the last minute due to weather and other factors.  But welcome,  and let's chat.

Will more people be on the roads because gas is cheaper this year?

Good question.

Gas prices are not as high as the $2.82 we saw during Memorial Day weekend. They’ve dropped a dime since then in the metro area to an average of $2.72 a gallon, and area travelers are set on making it to the destinations they may have missed out on last Fourth of July. Perhaps the recent weeks of low prices at the pump were just the break area motorists needed. Thanks.

Is the 4th of July holiday that traveled? I thought most people stay at home and have barbecues and picnics and not hit the roads.


You are right, the vast majority of us do not travel during the major travel holidays of the summer.  Most of us stay home and have  barbecue in our backyards with our family and our friends.   


 Having said that, Washingtonians are traveling more this summer and it is a trend we began seeing at Memorial Day and now it’s continuing over the Fourth and it’s likely to continue though Labor Day. This summer Washingtonians are not only taking to the roads, but also traversing the country via airplane, train and other modes of transportation.



How many people do you estimate that will travel to D.C. to spend the holiday in the nation's capital on this holiday? And how will they get here: mostly by car or other?

You can expect upwards of a half million people to as many as 1.2 million in Washington over the weekend because of the events on the National Mall and the baseball game this Sunday.

If you plan to ride Metro this Fourth of July weekend to either the holiday festivities on the National Mall  or to  the Washington Nationals day game, you’ll have plenty of company. And we don’t mean maybe. Metro officials expect between a half million and 600 thousand rail trips system for the fireworks show. You should expect crowded trains and buses and rail stations.



Hello, I'm finding it difficult to rely on Metro to get me home on the Red Line each night (major disruption twice this week). I know it won't be crowded for the Friday commute but are they ensuring steps for smooth rides. Happy 4th.

You are right, Metro will be crowded tomorrow as local workers get out of Dodge early.

You can expect the crowds to emerge at noon, as  the work force heads for the exits early.

Will airports be crowded on the 4th?

After falling victim to the economic woes of last year, airlines can expect to bounce back over the weekend. The airports will be busy, but not as busy as they were on Memorial Day in our area, and not as busy as they are on the average workday when more than 200, 000 persons fly out of the area's three major airports.

More than 33, 000 local residents will reach their holiday destinations by plane.

This 9.1 percent increase in air travel is a direct result of the upturn the economy has taken over the last year,”


If I head to the Udvar-Hazy annex on Sunday, will I encounter a lot of traffic going the other way headed to the Mall for fireworks? (Sorry if this sounds like a geographically challenged question.)

Good question and keep this in mind. Metro officials expect between a half million and 600 thousand rail trips system for the fireworks show.

You should expect crowded trains and buses and rail stations.


 To meet the demand, Metro is running extra service on July 4th.  The good thing about this is  there will be no scheduled weekend track maintenance. 


 Metrorail will run from 7 a.m. to midnight, and operate near rush-hour level service for six straight hours from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Leaving Friday to head South on I-95 to North Carolina. What time will most people be leaving, and when should I aim to leave to avoid the worst of it?

Snaking from Maine to Florida, I-95 is one of the busiest roadways in America. I would suggest leaving before the morning rush hour to beat the crowd or to sit the morning rush hour out and slip out of town between 10:00 a.m. and noon. If you wait until noon, you will encounter all the local traffic as workers leave their jobs early. You can find state-to-state drive times at


By the way, the I-95 Corridor Long Distance Trip Planning Website is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

I have family coming in from the midwest tomorrow (driving), what would be the best time to hit the D.C. Metro area to avoid traffic?

It is impossible to avoid traffic in Washington.  Just kidding, nothing is impossible.  I was traveling into Washington last week from a family reunion in Alabama, and area roads looked like a ghost town after midnight. I was shocked. But even Washington has to have some down time.  The later you arrive the better. The earlier you arrive the better too. Have a safe trip.

What are my chances of getting to Point Judith, R.I., by 6:45pm tomorrow night (July2) if I can't leave D.C. until 10:30 a.m.?

Heading to the coast of Narragansett, good for you. I am envious.  That’s a beautiful destination for the holiday. The drive from the Washington to Providence alone up I-95 normally takes six hours and 37 minutes by car.  That along is a distance of 402.5 miles. However, under current conditions, meaning the volume of holiday traffic on I-95,  that leg of the trip alone will  take eight hours.

Hope this helps. Here's a handy too.

It seems that more people in the last several years are leaving on Thursday and not Friday so much. Do you find this true?

We do, and so does the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA), for example. The same is true for other transportation departments in the region.  For example, when it comes to traveling the Bay Bridge for the holiday period, the  MDTA uses the following gauge or yardstick: Thursday, July 1, through Monday, July 5.


Quick, leave now.

How will 270 look tomorrow going northwest? Planning on leaving Northern Virginia around 6pm tomorrow headed to Cleveland- good idea?

Before leaving home at that time, I would take a look at the I-270 cameras to determine the volume of traffic on that stretch of the road from Old Georgetown to Clarksburg Road.


You can view the camera images here:


Believe me, at 6:00 pm, which is the height of the evening rush hour,  I-270, will be jammed with motor vehicles.


Why cool your heads behind the wheel? It will only frustrate you to death. So sit out the evening rush and head out around nine that evening and you will arrive in Cleveland before dawn’s early light.



Once each summer my husband and I drive to Long Island separately, and leave one of our cars up there. He leaves Friday after work, I leave at 4:00 a.m.  on Saturday. It usually takes him at least 7 hours and I always make it in under 4-1/2 hours. Early in the morning it's just me and the pod people (those minivans with the storage pods on top), no lines for coffee or gas, and no backups at the tolls.

Dear Ms. Solution.

Thanks for your insights and travel tips. Like Arthur Dent, the earthling in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” you have discovered the secret of traveling with finesse and aplomb.

No lines. No backups. No hassles. No worries.

 I like that.  


 Just don’t pick up hitchhikers heading to Long Island.

We are going to Virginia Beach for the weekend, returning Monday. Do you think more people will be staying for the week or just the weekend? In other words, how bad will traffic be driving home on Monday? I drove back Memorial Day and it wasn't that bad.



In that old Mother Goose nursery rhyme “Monday’s child is fair of face.”  And you will have a smile on your face as you head back from Virginia Beach on Monday.  Under the best circumstances the trip would take three hours or so, depending on traffic volume and traffic flow.  It could elongate to three and half hours, but that’s not enough to spoil your weekend. Go with the flow and stay safe.


Thanks for you questions, comments and your insights. I really enjoyed chatting with you.  Before going I just recap what the numbers will look like on our local roads during the holiday weekend.


This Fourth of July, trips by automobile are expected to increase in popularity with 90 percent of travelers, or 31.4 million people, reaching their destination by driving. In the Washington metro area, we expect 91 percent of local travelers to travel to their holiday destination by automobile. So that’s 750,000 local residents heading for the exits in their vehicles in the period between Thursday, July 1 to Monday, July 5.


To put that into perspective: that’s up  19%  over 2009, when 629,900 Washingtonians travel to their destinations by automobile. Amazingly, the number of local vacationers traveling by automobile will increase by 60,000 persons.


As to the numbers by the states: the number of Virginians traveling this Fourth of July holiday weekend will increase 19.3 percent from 2009 with close to 970,650 Virginians taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home. Of that number, 889,974 will travel by motor vehicle (increase of 19.9% over last year).


The number of Marylanders traveling on vacation this Fourth of July holiday weekend is expected to increase 18.4 percent compared to 2009 with approximately 658,700 travelers taking a trip 50 miles or more from home. Travel by automobile is expected to be the dominant form of travel as nearly 92 percent of Maryland travelers, 603,900, are projected to drive to their destination, which reflects an 18.9 percent increase versus last year’s holiday.

So have a great trip, obey the traffic rules, stay safe, enjoy your family and friends, celebrate America and rejoice in the greatness, glory and grandeur  of America,  it will be on display all weekend long.

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John Townsend
John Townsend is manager of Public and Government Affairs and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
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