No matter what your holiday plans, being prepared for winter conditions and holiday traffic will help make your trip smoother. The Washington State Department of Transportation urges all travelers to “know before you go” and plan ahead for smoother travel.
Three-day Christmas weekends are rare – the last one on a Monday was in 2006 – but traffic analysts have used historical data to produce travel time charts predicting this year’s heaviest travel times. One note: WSDOT traffic analysts warn that winter weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for snow and ice no matter where you travel and know that a sudden snowstorm can affect the travel time projections.
TravelWireNews Chatroom for Readers (join us)
The agency provides several other tools to help plan holiday travels:
- Check out online tools, including mobile apps, traffic cameras and email alerts.
- Visit our online traveler information about traffic, weather and ferry schedules.
- Follow WSDOT’s social media accounts, such as Twitter and Facebook.
- Pre-program 530 AM and 1610 AM to vehicle radios for highway advisory radio alerts.
- Carry chains and other winter driving essentials.
- Check current chain and traction requirements on the WSDOT passes website or by calling 5-1-1, and watch for highway advisory signs.
- Leave extra time for holiday and winter travel, slow down and drive appropriately for conditions. Often crashes or pass closures are due to drivers going too fast or traveling without proper equipment.
In the mountains, State Route 123 Cayuse Pass (elevation 4,675 feet), State Route 20 North Cascades Highway (elevation 5,477 feet) and Chinook Pass (elevation 5,430 feet) are closed for the winter.
On Snoqualmie Pass (elevation 3,022), you can receive text alerts for pass delays 30 minutes or longer – text “wsdot snoqualmie” to 468311 to subscribe, and “wsdot stop” to unsubscribe.
In the Puget Sound, the State Route 520 bridge will have weekend toll rates on Monday, Dec. 25. Travel is free on the Interstate 405 express toll lanes on Christmas day, returning to normal toll and HOV requirements from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 26. I-405 express toll lanes are always free on weekends and evenings. Out-of-town travelers can learn about toll roads and short-term account options on the Good to Go! visitors page. If renting a vehicle, check with the rental agency about their tolls policy and fees.
Other travel alternatives
Travelers planning a trip by ferry, train, personal aircraft or bus also should make plans to avoid holiday delays:
- Please plan ahead for heavy holiday ferry traffic and consider purchasing tickets online to save time. The longest lines are expected westbound Friday afternoon and evening, Dec. 22, and eastbound throughout the day Monday, Dec. 25, and Tuesday, Dec. 26. Reservations are recommended on the San Juan and Port Townsend/Coupeville routes. Some ferry routes run on Saturday schedules on the holiday, check the Washington State Ferries website or call 888-808-7977 for details.
- Amtrak Cascades passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets early and should plan to arrive at the station one hour before departure. All Amtrak Cascades trains require reservations and trains fill up quickly during holidays, though two new daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland starting Dec. 18 will offer travelers more options. Visit www.amtrakcascades.com/ or call 800–USA–RAIL for details.
- For information about traveling via state-operated airports, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/aviation/airports/Amenities.htm or call 800-552-0666.
- Check with your local public transit agency for any holiday schedule or service changes, including some Dial-A-Ride and fixed-route service that may not run on holidays