Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday Surge: Travel increases for end of holiday weekend

Travel numbers from Thanksgiving 2008 show more drivers may have made a weekend out of it. Compared to 2007, travel decreased slightly on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while increased – in some cases close to 40 percent – on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

Prior to the holiday weekend, WSDOT posted information on typical cross-state holiday travel on its Web site and its travel predictions were very close to actual traffic counts for Wednesday through Saturday.

Sunday was a different story. Here’s what we found:

  • Compared to 2007, many drivers stayed in Eastern Washington over the weekend.
  • On I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, close to 180,000 made the trip Wednesday through Sunday, an increase from 2007 of just 2,150 vehicles (1.2 percent).
  • Westbound travel was down 12,900 (12 percent) on Friday, but up 25,200 (13 percent) Sunday.

Snoqualmie is typically very busy for Thanksgiving. Another busy Turkey Day spot is Washington’s only section of I-5 with just two lanes in each direction - the area just south of Olympia through Lewis County. We have projects going on to widen it.

Here’s the 2008 numbers for I-5 south of Olympia:

  • For the entire weekend, close to 350,000 vehicles traveled here (Wednesday through Sunday), an increase of just four percent from 2007.
  • But looking at the numbers from Sunday alone indicate there were 68,600 cars on the road here, 16,000 (30 percent) more than in 2007.
  • Sunday's southbound travel was up 19 percent and northbound travel up 41 percent.

Okay, so here’s the big question…why? Forty one percent is a big number – why and what were you all doing Sunday? One thing we do know it wasn’t the weather. It was pretty good all over. Fog and frost slowed Snoqualmie Pass traffic in the early morning hours, however the weather did not cause serious problems or long delays for holiday travelers.

By the way, for those who like numbers, it looks like we were right on in Tacoma. On the SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge toll plaza, we correctly predicted between 60 and 75 percent of drivers would use the manual toll lanes during peak travel times (6-11 p.m.) on Thanksgiving Day. It seems five-mile backups were reported at times, with wait times up to 40 minutes. To help these drivers, the Washington State Patrol temporarily opened the HOV lane to all electronic toll payers with Good To Go! accounts. Besides the Thursday rush, there were no backups reported for the remainder of the weekend.