The best and worst times to drive to avoid traffic


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With the holiday season in full swing, people may be worried whether they’ll get stuck in bad traffic this year during Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, as holiday travel is rebounding since the pandemic. Across the country, people can expect drives up to 25% longer than usual.

All modes of transportation will see an increase in travelers this holiday season, with about 112.7 million people estimated to travel farther than 50 miles this year between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 – 3.6 million more than last year, according to AAA. Of those, about 102 million will be driving.

Drivers should expect delays when driving through major metropolitan areas, according to Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

“In summary, the best times to travel are before the afternoon commute sets in at about 2 p.m.,” he told USA TODAY in an email. “We expect the busiest days to be Dec. 23, 27, and 28, along with Jan. 2.”

For those who are driving for their holiday plans, here’s what to know:

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When is the worst time to leave for holiday travel?

The afternoon to early evening, aka peak commuting hours, are going to have the worst traffic as travelers mesh with work commuters on the road, according to INRIX.

Generally, try to avoid driving between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

  • On Dec. 23, the worst traffic tie will be between 4 and 7 p.m.
  • On the day after Christmas, the worst traffic will be between 2 and 6 p.m.
  • For the day after New Year’s Day, bad traffic is predicted to be between 4 and 7 p.m.

When is the best time to leave for holiday travel?

The days around Christmas and New Year’s predicted to have the least traffic are Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

If traveling on those days isn’t feasible, try to head out early or in the evening following the after-work commute, Pishue advised.

Generally, the best times to travel are before 2 p.m. and after 8 p.m.

On Christmas Eve, though, INRIX recommended that people travel before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. The day after Christmas, people should be on the road before noon and then after 7 p.m. For the day after New Year’s Day, travel before 3 p.m. and after 8 p.m.

How will weather impact holiday traffic?

Poor weather may cause further delays, so keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly, Pishue said.

“Many remember the I-95 backup in Virginia, which left some drivers delayed on the freeway overnight, caused by a massive snow and ice storm,” he said. “While we can’t predict these, or when mountain passes and other roads close due to weather, it is important that travelers get the latest information on road closures and delays before taking their trip.”

Worst travel times in major US cities

Drivers going through big cities such as Los Angeles and New York City should prepare for twice the usual traffic delays.

Atlanta

  • Worst corridor: I-75 North, GA-17 to I-675.
  • Worst day: Monday, Jan. 2.
  • Worst time: 5:15-6:15 p.m.
  • Peak travel time increase: 65%.

Chicago

  • Worst corridor: I-290 West, Mannheim Road to Paulina Street.
  • Worst day: Tuesday, Dec. 27.
  • Worst time: 4:45.-6:45 p.m.
  • Peak travel time increase: 75%.

The Angels

  • Worst corridor: I-5 South, Colorado Street to Florence Avenue.
  • Worst day: Tuesday, Dec. 27.
  • Worst time: 5:30-7:30 p.m.
  • Peak travel time increase: 95%.

New York

  • Worst corridor: I-278 West, I-495 to 6th Avenue.
  • Worst day: Tuesday, Dec. 27.
  • Worst time: 3:45-5:45 p.m.
  • Peak travel time increase: 112%.

Washington

  • Worst corridor: I-95 South, MD-212 to Central Avenue.
  • Worst day: Tuesday, Dec. 27.
  • Worst time: 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Peak travel time increase: 68%.



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