Mid-afternoon traffic on northbound Interstate 5 on Nov. 22 near Everett. Dan Bates/The Herald

Mid-afternoon traffic on northbound Interstate 5 on Nov. 22 near Everett. Dan Bates/The Herald

Thanksgiving traffic forecast is heavier than pre-pandemic

Drivers and ferry riders could be in for long waits, depending on when they go.

Buckle up for a rebound in holiday travel congestion this week.

An increase in travel is expected around Thanksgiving, starting Wednesday until Monday.

AAA Washington estimates more than 1.4 million people from the state will travel for the holiday. If that number bears true, it will be a 16% increase from last year. Based on that forecast, it would be 2% above pre-pandemic travel numbers.

Most of those travelers, about 1.2 million people, are driving, according to AAA Washington.

They’ll likely see higher gas prices than this time last year.

According to travel charts from the Washington State Department of Transportation, I-5 between Lacey and Tacoma as well as I-90 across Snoqualmie Pass, are likely to have high traffic volumes.

Those who drive should be prepared for an emergency, especially across the mountain passes. WSDOT’s winter staffing positions were down almost 300 people compared to normal as of mid-October.

It could mean longer closures for passes and roads during “significant” storms, some areas being plowed less or having more ice and snow longer, and slower responses to crashes and other emergencies, according to the state.

Drivers can check WSDOT’s real-time map before heading out, or have a passenger monitor it via the WSDOT app.

Washington State Ferries expect busy and full sailings for vehicles over the holiday weekend. It comes as the state-operated agency has reduced sailings because of crew shortages.

“We know and understand that our reduced schedules are causing many challenges,” WSDOT Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello said in a statement. “We are working hard to recruit new employees so we can restore service on a route-by-route basis. Recently, we’ve been able to add sailings nearly every day.”

Generally, the ferries are busiest heading west or onto an island Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning, and eastbound or departing an island Thursday afternoon through Friday.

Catching an early morning or late-night sailing, or boarding without a car, can help travelers skirt long waits.

Ferry travelers are encouraged to sign up for ferry email alerts and check terminal conditions.

When in indoor areas aboard state ferries and terminals, people must wear a face covering.


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